Austal holds keel laying ceremony for company’s first steel ship

The ceremony marked the official start of construction for its first steel ship, the future USNS Billy Frank Jr.
Published: Nov. 14, 2023 at 7:12 PM CST
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MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - Austal USA on Tuesday marked the official start of construction for its first steel ship — the future USNS Billy Frank Jr., will become the Navy’s 11th towing, salvage and rescue ship, designated T-ATS 11.

Austal USA celebrated the moment with a keel laying ceremony Tuesday afternoon. Ship sponsor Peggen Frank and her husband, Willie Frank III, authenticated the keel by welding their initials into a keel plate that will then be welded to the hull of the ship. They were assisted by Brandon Auld, a four-year Austal USA veteran a-class structural fitter.

It will be the navy’s eleventh towing, salvage and rescue ship, designated T-ATS 11.

Billy Frank Jr. was a member of the Nisqually Indian tribe and a U.S. Marine Corps veteran of Korean War.

His son, William Frank III, spoke with FOX10 about what this keel laying means to him and his family.

“I think my father’s received many beautiful awards over the last nine years since he’s passed but I think this is going to be such an amazing honor — one, the U.S. Navy, my father was a Marine, also just thinking about where we are in the world today and to think about we’ll have one of our own named after …you know a Navy will be named after him. So I just think that…it’s a good time to be alive right now,” he said.

The T-ATS 11 is the first of five construction contracts awarded to Austal for U.S. Navy T-ATS vessels. These ships will provide ocean-going tug, salvage, and rescue capabilities to support U.S. fleet operations and will be a multi-mission common hull platform capable of towing heavy ships. Delivery of T-ATS 11 is planned for late 2024.

Austal USA has retooled its previously aluminum-only shipyard to handle construction of steel-hulled ships. The shipbuilder has used its facilities along the Mobile River to build the aluminum Independence-class Littoral Combat Ships and Spearhead-class Expeditionary Fast Transport vessels.