AVONDALE, La. -- The U.S.S. Somerset, a naval vessel commemorating the victims of the September 11 attacks, was christened at the Avondale shipyard Saturday, a bittersweet event for both the families of the terror attack’s victims and the workers at the shipyard whose job outlook is uncertain.
Docked along the Mississippi River, the massive $1.2 billion amphibious landing dock was the hard work of thousands of Avondale shipyard workers like Michael Miller.
“Each and every one of the ship builders on this ship are very proud to be a part of this and honored to name the ship Somerset and to work with each and every one of the ships here,” Miller said.
On Saturday, the ship which took about four years to complete was christened.
"It’s a great day for the ship but there’s kind of a bittersweetness to it, knowing this is the last ship that will be built here. There's also a lot of pride,” said Mike Petters, president and chief executive officer of Huntington Ingalls Industries, which owns the shipyard slated to close its doors next year.
With Gov. Bobby Jindal and the Navy's backing, Petters remained tight-lipped Saturday about keeping the facility open.
“I don't want to talk about any specific opportunities, but my commitment to the ship builders is we will turn over every rock to find a way to redeploy this site,” he said.
Despite facing an uncertain future, Avondale shipworkers were praised by the families who lost loved ones on September 11, 2001 – speakers like Patrick White, who lost a cousin onboard United Airlines Flight 93 when it crashed in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. The passengers rushed the hijackers in the cockpit of the plane, which crashed, killing all 40 passengers and crew.
The ship built by dedicated hands that now bears the same name of that fateful spot.
“It’s our sincere hope that although she may be the last of the three of sister ships honoring those we lost at the Sept. 11 sites to make her way in the world, that hers will not be the last chapter for this shipyard,” White said.
More work needs to be completed on the USS Somerset before it can be officially delivered to the Navy. That is expected to happen sometime next year.