SeaRoad’s new ship sails to Australia

SeaRoad Holdings chairman Chas Kelly says Mersey II will be a boon for transport customers and drivers

SeaRoad’s new ship sails to Australia
Mersey II features two stern ramps and three cargo decks and is fitted with 150 power outlets for refrigerated cargo units.


SeaRoad Holdings has been running two freight ships between Tasmania and Melbourne for the last 25 years and is now upgrading Mersey with a much bigger ship, the Mersey II, and plans to start the build of a new vessel in 2018 which will replace Tamar.

Mersey, which has been operating every day, seven days a week, will be replaced by the new $110 million ship in December.

The ship will service Bass Strait and is the first in Australia to use liquefied natural gas (LNG) fuel-and-power technology.

The roll-on-roll-off vessel is specifically designed and commissioned for the Bass Strait trade, with all of the ship’s principal engines being dual-fuel.

Significantly larger and faster than the previous ship, Mersey II will add capacity for Tasmanian exporters, Kelly explains.

"This ship gives us 50 per cent lift in our capacity of outcome," Kelly says.

"We are currently in negotiation for the second ship and that will give us 80 per cent capacity which takes away all the tightness of space.

"Our ships are 25 years old and they’re getting toward the end of their life; the second ship will 100 per cent happen and at this point we’re looking at 2018 delivery which is a couple of years away but that’s fine, we’ve got plenty of capacity with the first ship to look after that."


Chas Kelly has been to Germany four times to oversee the build

Revolutionary ferry

Officially christened by Kelly’s wife Robyn a month ago, Mersey II is built at Flensburger Schiffbau-Gesellschaft (FSG) shipyard in Germany.

With operations due to commence in December, the 182m-long ship will carry containers, trailers, cars and other mobile or wheeled freight. It will allow for faster transit times and longer permits at ports.

Trailers will be secured by the SAT trestle system which will save waterside labour.

"It’s a good occupational health and safety move to stop people bending and straining," Kelly says.

"One of the things we’ll have on the new ship is an automatic threshold system which will save waterside labour from towing the trailers down."

Built undercover in modules and assembled at the shipyard, Mersey II features two stern ramps and three cargo decks, and is fitted with 150 power outlets for refrigerated cargo units.

Its car deck can carry up to 110 vehicles, with the upper vehicle deck big enough for 160 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU) and trailers and containers designated for dangerous goods and livestock with effluent containment. The main vehicle deck can accommodate 295 TEU.


The cargo capacity at Mersey II is 6750 tonnes – up from 2700 tonnes from the old ship

Kelly doesn’t expect drivers to experience any delays, either: "We should have a streamline flow of vehicles and containers, so as time goes on we’ll continue to improve that."

The ship is nearly ready to hit the water and is expected to provide a six-day weekly service between Devonport and Melbourne once the crew of 13 Australians sail it back to home waters.

It will use diesel for less than one per cent of its operational requirements.

Kelly is so happy with the FSG’s work, he’s currently in negotiations with them to build a second ship.

A new era

Now that the ship is launched, the next stage is the fitout of the ship, including the installation of the superstructure and navigation equipment and completion of wiring, painting and furnishing along with engine and sea trials.

The trip to Australia will take between 35 to 50 days, with the ship sailed under its own power via the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa where it will stop for fuel, as well as in Fremantle. 

Once in harness, there will be two overnight service provides and other weekly and monthly alternatives for shippers on the Bass Strait – which Kelly describes as a "fiercely competitive market" where commercial rivalry enables stable freight rates.

He believes Mersey II will add more space and speed to Bass Strait as a larger ship means greater capacity all-year-around, especially at peak times.

"It’s a competitive market and we just need to maintain our share of it," he says.

Many new customers have already expressed an interest in having their freight carried on Mersey II, he adds. Ordering new ships is not an easy task, as one has to second-guess the market for the next 25 years.

Chas Kelly (R) places newly-minted coins under the keel block to bless the ship and as a symbol of good fortune

"The big challenge is designing a ship that will fit the next 25 years, so you have to second-guess the market a little," Kelly says.

"But we believe that this new design and the improvements that we have been able to make will allow us to adapt to whatever market change is needed from now on.

"We’re only 500,0000 people but Tasmania does bat above its weight and I think we’ve been conservative about the market increase; there’s always plenty of competition but we think we’re well-placed to compete nicely."

King Island service

Once home, Tamar will be dry-docked for 12 days, followed by the Mersey.

Kelly has no plans in selling Mersey, saying it’s in an exceptional condition and will therefore continue servicing King Island: "It’s been maintained well and ships do last a long time."

King Island is serviced by the SeaRoad Mersey every week. Due to its size, the new ship will the island and SeaRoad will continue to use its existing terminals at East Devonport and Webb Dock in Port Melbourne.

"Mersey II will allow people in Tasmania to get their freight on and off the island because the capacity will be there; we think it’s good for Tasmania," Kelly says.

Have a go

Kelly has seen some pretty big changes in the transport industry during his 30 years.

He’s come a long way since 1979 since buying a truck and acquiring the Bass Strait shipping and freight forwarding business SeaRoad Logistics in 2007.

A shareholder and chairman of the company, he says he’s unsure what his next adventure might be.

"It’s 10 o’clock on a Wednesday morning; I have no idea what comes next," Kelly says. "As far as SeaRoad goes, new ship is next and I am very pleased with it.

"I think you have to have a bit of a go – that’s the bottom line, and have some passion for it which I have. I like to go to work and I like transport and shipping.

"I don’t think transport has changed much in the last couple of years but when I first started working in the industry the change has been astronomical, the containerisation and combination of trucks and the size of trucks – it’s all been very interesting."

Kelly has been to Germany four times during the build of Mersey II ,and says he’s developed a soft spot for it.

"I’ve watched it being built from flat pieces of steel and when you get to see the completed version and the size of it it’s quite overwhelming," he adds.

Check out the full feature, plus more images in this month's ATN


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