3/16/2006 4:09:50 AM
One gleaming ship stands out among the others in a Plaquemines Parish shipyard crowded with boats damaged by last year’s hurricanes.
That vessel, the Pat-Al, went back in the water this week thanks to a device known as a Marine Travelift and the generosity of people from Alaska.
The dedication ceremonies Monday (March 13) marked another step in the Louisiana fishing industry’s road to recovery. It came after a 4,500-mile trek for the piece of equipment, which was donated to Plaquemines Parish after desperate pleas from agents with the LSU AgCenter.
The Pat-Al was just one of the vessels put out of commission when Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast more than six month’s ago. Its captain, Allen Kahoe, has been working the Gulf waters for 47 years, and he said being out of the water for so long has been difficult.
"(It’s) terrible. Not just for losing income," Kahoe said of the circumstances. "I love fishing."
Without the generosity of the people of Valdez, Alaska, and their donation of a Marine Travelift, however, the Pat-Al would have had an even more difficult time returning to the Gulf.
It was lowered back into the water Monday as dignitaries from Louisiana and Alaska looked on.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, was instrumental in setting up the donation of the lift on Alaska’s end.
"The distance between Alaska and Louisiana has just gotten a little smaller," Murkowski said.
The traveling lift moves boats in and out of the water. It also allows boat owners to reposition boats on land to make repairs. The old lift at the Empire shipyard was damaged in the storm.
So LSU AgCenter fisheries agents started contacting their Sea Grant colleagues across the country in hopes of getting a lift donated. The town of Valdez stepped up.
"It’s a great example of fishermen helping fishermen as far a way in the United States as you can possibly get," said Rusty Gaude, an LSU AgCenter fisheries agent for Orleans, Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes.
But it was no small accomplishment getting the 16-ton machine from Alaska to Louisiana – a 4,500-mile journey.
"A lot of different people put their hands on that machine, metaphorically and literally," Gaude said.
Murkowski worked with the Alaskan Fisheries Industry Relief Mission (AFIRM) to make the donation possible. Bill Woolf, a representative of AFIRM, said the industry knew something had to be done to get people in Louisiana’s fishing industry back to work.
"Most folks in Alaska are fisherman," Woolf said. "They wanted to do something practical."
The donation hit a snag when it came time to move the traveling lift. A plan to transport it by plane fell through, and barge travel was too time consuming. Two trucking companies, Carlise Transportation based in Anchorage, Alaska, and Packard Truck Lines from Plaquemines Parish, donated their services.
A technical expert with the company Marine Travelift oversaw the dismantling and reassembling of the lift in the two towns.
Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., attended the dedication of the Marine Travelift. She said getting the lift to Empire was a big step in getting the fishing industry back on its feet.
"Launching this boat this morning is not just about a boat," Landrieu said. "It’s about launching a community, a way of life, an industry."
After Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita, many boats were blocking waterways. The U.S. Coast Guard was responsible for moving the boats and clearing the waterways. So the Coast Guard used cranes to get the vessels out of the water and onto blocks in shipyards.
"The Coast Guard’s mission stops when it places the boat on the blocks," Gaude explained. "It’s then the responsibility of the vessel owner to make repairs, and it’s on his or her back to get that boat back in the water."
Without a functioning traveling lift in the area, most vessel owners would have had to hire expensive cranes to return their boats to the water, Gaude said.
"I can think of nothing right now that would, at least for the people of this region, help them more than a Travelift to get them back in the water and back to making a living at fishing," Gaude said.
About 85 percent of the commercial fishing vessels in the area were disabled, damaged or destroyed by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
The flooded Pat-Al was lifted from the water on Feb. 8. In the span of a month, Kahoe and fellow fishermen repaired eight holes in the boat and had it looking like new.
The 76-year old Kahoe was proud to see his boat back in the water and said he was thankful for the traveling lift and all the people who have made it possible. He said he was looking forward to the day when all the boats and ships in the area can return to sea.
"This is great," Kahoe said. "It’s going to help them all. It’s going to help everybody."