That wonderful dreamlike idea of 10 years ago, FastShip, has come up again, with a politician's brilliant invention.
The aim was to build Trans-Atlantic cargo vessels that could scoot across at 40 knots, cutting voyage time down to as little as four days. Powered by Rolls-Royce, using mega-powered versions of bow thrusters, the 10,000 ton vessels (1400 TEU) were to be built by an unnamed European yard at a cost of $240 million.
NASSCO in San Diego originally put its thumbprint on the agreement (with everyone saying they were really "excited" about the project and all sorts of optimistic analyses being trotted out by Price WaterhouseCoopers and JP Morgan to prove it was a surefire winner), but later withdrew.
Financing, or lack of it, left the project dead in the water, even though obvious military applications were touted. And that was where everyone thought it had stayed. But along comes the Congressman who pushed through Federal money, about $35 million of it, for a special harbor and facilities in Philadelphia, at the Aker yard.
It seems that he has devised some sort of time travel machine. He has reached back more than six years (to the year when the grant was made) to pull out the money earmarked for FastShip and "reprogram" it to keep the yard functioning. Never mind that the yard is laying off a whole lot of workers and is expected to close in 2012 at the latest.
Most people assume that FastShip Inc has died off but the company is still "alive", according to CEO Roland Bullard in Philadelphia. "Financing is difficult in the current climate, "he tells me, "and we are looking at other options." He declined to say what these might be, but said they are based on the original concept. Military applications are "problematic", he says, which gives a clue as to why the project never got off the slipway – if the navy shows no interest, a new shipbuilding venture in the US has little hope.
It seems that FastShip this time has been left out of the $35 million from Congress's time machine, although Aker is being coy about the arrangements. "I can't talk about what the plans are to create the future business and remain a viable concern," one of the bosses was quoted in news reports.
Both houses in Congress have to approve the new deal. Presumably, all eyes will be on the politician and his time travel solution—bringing back money that was spent six years ago. He has just become the most sought-after person in the world and will need an army of bodyguards to ensure he is not kidnapped by a foreign government desperate to learn his secret.