Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Will RoRo Shipping Line Float? Will Freight be Delivered Now a Propeller Has Fallen Off?

Trials and Tribulations of Owning a Ferry Company in the Southern Hemisphere
Shipping News Feature

AUSTRALIA – NEW ZEALAND – Two ‘ferry stories’ from down under this week, firstly state owned Tasmanian RoRo freight and passenger ferry group TT Line, could be up for sale as part of a plan to encourage private investment in the Bass Strait, following recommendations from freight infrastructure consultants Juturna. In its report to the Australian government funded advisory board, the Freight and Logistics Coordination Team (FLCT), Juturna identified that the biggest single issue facing state freight efficiency, was the ‘perceived matter of high transhipment costs on the Bass Strait’.

According to the report, the Tasmanian Government via TT Line currently controls around 25% of the total annual volume of freight transhipment and, through its ‘superior sailing speeds and roll-on roll-off capabilities’, the Spirit of Tasmania vessels set the standard for service on the route. It goes on to say that the company already appears to be running as a ‘virtually privatised concern’, but as long as it remains ‘half privatised’ under a state-owned, corporate model, TT Line might be expected to act as a ‘disincentive to greater competitive commercial interest and flexibility of investment in the Bass Strait freight trade’.

The core Bass Strait trade involves three main freight operators, Toll and Searoad as well as TT Line and Juturna’s report also made several other recommendations in order to help improve the country's freight infrastructure. Meanwhile in New Zealand things appear even more problematical. The three hours it takes Interislander's Cook Strait Ferries to transit from Wellington to Picton has been described as 'one of the most beautiful ferry rides in the world'.

Last Tuesday, it is doubtful that many passengers saw things like that when a propeller dropped off the ill-fated Aratere, a vessel on the route for the past fifteen years and one which has seemingly had various problems ever since. Certainly, if the opinion of NZ First leader Winston Peters is typical the ship is not held in the highest regard after he was reported to have said the ferry was not only a threat to its passengers, crew, and cargo, but ‘a lemon’.

Not one to reserve comment, Mr Peters has issued a scathing statement accusing KiwiRail officials of incompetence when the ship was lengthened at a Singapore shipyard and hiding the true cost of the conversion, the government of ‘systemic contempt for transparency’ with their decision to investigate that matter by way of a private inquiry, and going on to say the vessel is now only suitable for scrap.

Despite our request for a comment no word has come back from vessel operator Interislander which reportedly is to conduct an underwater search for the missing prop after a shaft sheared leaving the ship with just one, enough to manoeuvre but not ideal. The ship will remain out of service until surveyed, and management declined to comment about speculation that the Aratere could be out for up to a year, although there is a possibility that she will continue to carry freight with just one functioning propeller when released by the assessors, until she is fully repaired passenger carriage will certainly not be permitted.

The problems are now causing delays to the service and both Interislander and route rivals Strait Shipping are seeing congestion with the two remaining ships from each company virtually fully booked and warnings that there may be serious problems on the route, as Interislander considers seeking a replacement vessel before the Christmas period.

Photo: The Aratere under way in happier days.