Lloyd Werft has signed a deal to operate a new ship-repair facility in Freeport, Bahamas, to be called the Freeport Ship Care Facility.

The Freeport Ship Care Facility will initially feature a 30,000-ton-lift drydock to handle Fantasy­ class-sized ships and later, an 80,000-ton-sized drydock to handle Eagle-class-sized vessels.

According to Lloyd Werft General Manager Werner Luken, the smaller drydock, which will be purchased second-hand and moved to Freeport, will be open for business in early 2000. The larger facility, which will have to be constructed, will be in place by early 2001. The price tag for the first two drydocks will be $72 million, while long-term plans also call for a second phase of development which would reportedly add another Fantasy-size dock and a second Eagle-size dock.

Lloyd Werft has held a license to do work at Freeport since 1992, and numerous reports of drydock­ development deals have surfaced since - but never materialized. Explained Luken, "We had done some feasibility studies in the past which showed that there was not enough work to have a facility here year-round. But now, with the new containerport in Freeport doing very well, we did a new feasibility study and have determined that things have changed." There is also increased interest on the part of cruise lines in the project, he confirmed.

"As ships grow, the daily costs (of transporting them from the homeport to a ship-repair facility) are increasing tremendously," said Luken, noting, "Freeport is just 65 miles from Miami."

In fact, it is believed that the development of a full-service drydock facility in this location could have a noticeable impact on U.S. shipyards who are geographically distant from Southern Florida and the cruising grounds in the Caribbean.

And to further bolster its appeal to cruise customers, the new Freeport facility will primarily devote itself to commercial work, thus, cruise operators will not have to compete with the time-consuming Navy jobs that tie up the docks elsewhere for long periods of time.

The Freeport Ship Care Facility is a joint venture between Lloyd Werft and the Grand Bahama Port Authority. The new facility will be located on the northern limits of Freeport Harbor and away from the cruise terminal facilities. The long-term goal is to have the drydock employ 20 percent expatriate workers and 80 percent Bahamians.