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FastShip Plans Extra-Fast Ships

June 10, 1999 GMT

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ FastShip Inc. has signed a preliminary agreement with National Steel and Shipbuilding Co. to build the first four cargo vessels of a nine-ship fleet that FastShip says will make trans-Atlantic journeys in half the time that conventional ships do.

The deal announced today keeps FastShip on track for a 2003 target date to make its first high-speed runs between Philadelphia and Cherbourg, France, company president Roland K. Bullard II said in making the announcement today.

It also clears the way for J.P. Morgan Securities Inc. of New York to line up the $1 billion needed to back a formal construction contract, he said.

The Philadelphia-based company’s ships will use five modified jet aircraft engines powering water jets instead of the conventional propellers. A patented hull shape also helps speed up the journey.

``NASSCO’s recent extensive experience in building roll-on, roll-off vessels and their expertise in gas turbine powered ships is especially relevant to the FastShip project,″ Bullard said.

Bullard says Philadelphia is the ideal North American hub for his service because 60 percent of the U.S. gross national product is generated within 350 miles of the Philadelphia port. That is less than a day’s journey by truck or rail.

``Air shipments cost 10 times more than conventional ocean freight,″ Bullard said. His company’s rates have not been set yet, but are expected to be closer to conventional sea cargo rates than to air rates.

``We look forward to forging a long-term relationship ... that combines our shipbuilding expertise with FastShip’s technology and patents,″ said NASSCO president Richard H. Voltman.

The FastShip technology was developed partly using a $7 million investment by the Delaware River Port Authority. The authority has also promised to finance a new waterfront terminal for FastShip, which could cost up to $74.8 million.