Major freight delays after Spirit of Tasmania damage
Local producers call on the government to invest in an additional service across the Bass Strait
Spirit of Tasmania II resumed its daily service on Sunday – setting sail from Melbourne to Devonport a little before 10am – after being damaged in wild weather in Melbourne on Wednesday evening.
Spirit of Tasmania CEO Bernard Dwyer congratulated TT-Line staff and contractors for their collective "around-the-clock" effort to repair the vessel.
Further delays are expected to departure times as the company attempts to accommodate the backlog of cargo aboard its two ferries.
"We will be working hard to get the schedule back into proper alignment," Dwyer said.
While the news may come as a relief to many producers who depend on owner TT-Line for shipping their freight across the Bass Strait, the problem doesn’t end there.
TT-Line is the principal carrier for Tasmania’s fresh produce export and with many crops such as cherries, apricots and onions reaching their peak harvest time, local farmers say that the timing of the incident was most unfortunate.
They believe that the damage to the ferry has exposed the vulnerability of the transport industry that depends on the Bass Strait to transport freight to and from Tasmania.
Local producers and private ship operator are now calling on the government to invest in an additional service across the Strait to avoid any such crisis in the future.
The Tasmanian Government says while it has no immediate plans to support additional freight service, it would welcome private investment in this domain.
Many farmers, Tasmania’s cherry producers in particular, have been hit hard by the delay as they scramble to find alternatives to get their produce out before the Chinese New Year buying rush.
Some cherry farmers have been forced to restrict shipping up to 50 per cent of their total produce.
Others, who were awaiting the shipment of packaging material from the mainland, have been forced to store their harvest in temporary storage facilities until the supplies arrive.
While northbound freight saw major delays, supplies to Tasmania were also affected with a dozen loaded trailers carrying goods, including perishable items, stuck on the ship for over 12 hours after the incident.
And though there have not been any major shortages of supply in Tasmania, supermarkets are still concerned about running short in the next couple of days.
While TT-Line doubled the sailing schedule of Spirit of Tasmania I it did little to help freight transport with priority given to tourists and local commuters, who were also affected by the incident.
Dwyer said that TT-Line was working with producers to help find alternative shipping arrangements, including using its competitors like SeaRoad and Toll.
"Freight traditionally does not travel on day sailings so that's something we're working very hard with our freight customers," Dwyer said.
"The priority is to make sure that we get the produce off the state as easily and as efficiently as we can."
Tasmanian infrastructure minister Rene Hidding announced that SeaRoad had agreed to run double sailings last weekend to accommodate the backlog of freight.
SeaRoad chairman Chas Kelly says the company would squeeze every bit of freight it could onto its ships.
However, SeaRoad Mersey’s redirection to Tasmania came at the cost of King Island residents, who had to endure unexpected disruption in freight transport and travel plans.