Keppel AmFELS at the Port of Brownsville last month announced it had won a contract to build the nation’s largest trailing suction hopper dredge for Manson Construction Company, headquartered in Seattle.

It will be the first dredge built by AmFELS, which has diversified into shipbuilding in recent years after its mainstay business — offshore oil rig fabrication, maintenance and repair — declined after a slide in oil prices that began in 2015. The self-propelled dredge, to be christened the Frederick Paup after Manson’s board chairman, will have a capacity of 15,000 cubic yards, length of 420 feet, width of 81 feet and 28.5-foot draft. It will operate primarily along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, according to the company.

A trailing hopper dredge vacuums sand or mud off the seafloor through drag arms and deposits the material into the vessel’s hold. It can then be dumped offshore or pumped out to replenish beaches. The dredge AmFELS is building is the single-biggest investment in Manson’s 115-year history, said the company.

Manson President John Holmes said his firm is happy to be partnering with AmFELS “due to their impressive vessel construction capabilities.”

AmFELS, part of Singapore-based Keppel Offshore & Marines, more than three years ago announced a $400 million contract with shipping firm Pasha Hawaii to build two liquefied-natural-gas-powered container ships, with options for two more. A ceremonial keel-laying for the M/V George III and cutting of the first steel plate for the M/V Janet Marie took place in April 2019. AmFELS is scheduled to deliver the George III late this year and the Janet Marie in early 2021.

“Their value proposition is strengthened by our shared focus on safety,” Holmes said.

AmFELS President Mohamed Sahlan Bin Salleh said Manson’s choice of the company to build the country’s largest hopper dredge is “testament to the capabilities of our shipyard to build a wide variety of vessels for the Jones Act market.”

The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, or “Jones Act,” was created to protect U.S. maritime interests and contains protections for offshore workers on Jones Act vessels. It requires that all vessels carrying goods between two U.S. ports be built, owned and flagged in the United States, and crewed by U.S. citizens or legal aliens. In 2005 the Supreme Court expanded the definition of a Jones Act vessel to include dredges.

“This project will be supported by our highly skilled local workforce and suppliers across the U.S.,” Bin Salleh said. “This is our first new-build project with Manson and we look forward to supporting them as they grow their fleet of vessels.”