PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — After winning a contract to build the first four cutters for the Coast Guard, Eastern Shipbuilding and community leaders expected the company to win the next contract.

“It’s just a total surprise frankly,” Florida Congressman Neal Dunn said.

Instead, the Coast Guard announced Austal USA from Mobile was awarded the contract.

“It’s an enormous loss, it’s an enormous loss,” Dunn said. “Think of the stability of having that contract going forward. And it’s not only an enormous loss, it’s a surprise loss. So it’s one that we really didn’t build into our calculations because everybody thought that this was going so well and we got such glowing reports back from the Coast Guard.”

Austal USA has experience building aluminum ships, unlike steel-hulled cutters Eastern Shipbuilding built for the Coast Guard. The decision will cost Eastern Shipbuilding billions.

“This contract was a potential 3.3 billion dollar contract,” Bay County Chamber of Commerce Communications VP Wes Johnson said. “So it’s going to have an impact on the local economy.”

Dunn expected the decision to cost the Coast Guard more money and delay the service of the ships. Dunn said Coast Guard officials have said Eastern Shipbuilding built first-rate ships.

“They’re producing very very high-quality vessels,” Dunn said. “The Coast Guard will volunteer that information that they think they’re getting the best boats they’ve ever had out of Eastern.”

Dunn said his staff is looking over the contract before its approval. 

“Let’s go look and make sure that the rules were followed, let’s make sure that the facts were the real facts and not suppositions and innuendos,” Dunn said.