Austal USA laid the keel for its first steel ship on Tuesday, a symbolic milestone not just in the life of the ship but of the shipyard itself. In the process, the shipbuilder and the Navy paid tribute to a Native American man who served in the U.S. Marine Corps and went on to become a respected advocate for Native American rights and environmental concerns.
The ship, designated T-ATS 11, is one of several Navajo-class towing, rescue and salvage ships that Austal is under contract to build in Mobile. When it enters service it will become the USNS Billy Frank Jr.
Frank died in 2014 at age 104 after an eventful life. Born into the Nisqually tribe in Washington state, he served in the Marine Corps for two years in the 1950s. He went on to become a champion of tribal fishing rights and posthumously received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015.
In Tuesday's keel-laying ceremony, William Frank III and his wife, ship sponsor Peggen Frank, burned their initials into a steel plate that will be fixed within the ship. Peggen Frank, using the traditional language of the ceremony, certified that the keel had been “well and truly laid.”
Larry Ryder, vice president of business development and external affairs for Austal USA, said “the fact that we have, I think, six tribes represented today shows you the importance of this event.”
“Today's ceremony is especially meaningful for Austal USA as it is the…