Bass Strait freight capacity advice looms

State Infrastructure Minister to get TT-Line ship replacement advice before Christmas as freight ferries option rumours swirl

Bass Strait freight capacity advice looms
Bass Strait freight capacity advice looms
By Rob McKay | December 5, 2013

Bass Strait transport operators and their customers
are likely to have a clearer picture of the maritime logistics situation just before Christmas.

This is when Tasmanian government-owned ferry company TT-Line is due to advise State Infrastructure Minister David O'Byrne on the future of its fleet, currently two roll-on roll-off passenger ferries that take freight vehicles.

The rumour mill in the state continues to turn on speculation that TT-Line could look to bring as many as two dedicated freight ferries into the market.

If realised, they may affect private-sector plans for fleet upgrades.

Toll, which conducts Bass Strait freight ferry services as Toll Shipping, has written to the Tasmanian Government underlining the issues it would have with such a TT-Line move, given its plans for two new freight ships.

"We acknowledge recent discussion about the future of shipping across Bass Strait," Toll Group spokesman Christopher Whitefield says.

"These discussions are timely given Toll, as the largest mover of freight between Tasmania and the mainland, is currently deciding whether to proceed with the purchase of new vessels for its Bass Strait service.

"This would be a very significant acquisition for Toll and will be viewed in the context of our commitment to businesses in Tasmania, and our assessment of the commercial viability over a 25-year period.

"We anticipate the exact type of vessels to be purchased will be decided during the second half of next year, with the vessels expected to be operational by around 2018."

Tasmanian media has reported Toll Group Corporate Affairs Director Andrew Ethell has written to the State Government requesting care be taken on any decision to go ahead with TT-Line freight ferry plans.

The Toll ships would replace ageing, smaller and less-efficient tonnage with a view to making ingress and egress faster through having fixed ramps between decks.

Though a concept is pictured, it is understood neither a shipyard nor propulsions system has been decided on.

SeaRoad Shipping, chaired by Tasmanian trucking and logistics magnate Chas Kelly, is going ahead with long-term $200 million plans to bring in a pair of gas-powered ships.

The issue has been given political heat by the Liberals’ opposition to such a possibility, which the party sees as an unwarranted government intrusion into a market serviced adequately by the private sector.

It has been gained added impetus by a parliamentary inquiry this week in which TT-Line Chairman Michael Grainger and O'Byrne reportedly deflected questions due to aspects being before Cabinet.

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