June 20, 2003

126.7 m Austal multi-hull

Austal to build world's largest multihull
Austal Ships and Fred. Olsen, S.A. have signed a contract for the world's largest high-speed multihull vessel. It will be based on a new hullform that, says Austal, is set to "revolutionize fast sea transportation." It is described as "a slender stabilized monohull, more commonly referred to as a trimaran."

When delivered in the second half of 2004, the 126.7 meter cargo-vehicle-passenger fast ferry will also be larger than any existing diesel-powered fast ferry--catamaran or monohull. It is also believed to be the world's largest all-aluminium ship.

The order is the outcome of a collaboration, involving more than three years of research and development effort, to produce the new design.

"This is the largest fast ferry ordered anywhere in the world since the late 1990s, and arguably the most significant single order placed in that time," said Austal Managing Director Bob McKinnon. "We expect this breakthrough project to generate considerable interest among ferry operators and it clearly demonstrates Austal's ability to produce high-speed ships of the size currently being sought by the U.S. military."

Austal Ships says the new 126 metre ferry is a "significant, but carefully planned and evaluated, progression in high-speed ship design." It draws on the track record Austal has established through the design and construction of 24 vehicle-passenger ferries since 1994.

Fred. Olsen, S.A. pioneered the use of large high-speed ferries in the Canary Islands and currently operates three fast ferries and two conventional vessels. The company carries almost three million passengers, half a million cars and a quarter of a million cargo vehicles per year in the five services that it offers in the Canary Islands.

One of the conventional vessels will be replaced in September by a new 66 m Auto Express catamaran on order at Austal Ships.

"We are delighted that an extremely experienced and successful operator like Fred. Olsen, S.A. has so quickly demonstrated its satisfaction with Austal and its products by becoming a repeat customer," McKinnon said.

Fred Olsen Jnr., Executive Chairman of Fred. Olsen, S.A. said, "We have already gathered a great deal of experience in the fast ferry business through operating three large ships since 1999, and we are very happy with the results of our three 96 m catamarans.

"However," he continued, "it was quite clear from the beginning that the catamarans had some limitations in terms of capacity and especially passenger comfort when operating in rough seas such as we have around the Canary Islands. This led us to the conclusion that further research was needed in order to develop a new concept for high-speed vessels. We wanted to combine the good comfort provided by the soft movement of monohulls, with the low resistance and very good stability and carrying capacity of catamarans."

"Maintaining high speed was also important to us," he noted, "so we were looking for increased engine power, without entering into gas turbines technology which would have led to unacceptably higher operating costs."

With these objectives in mind, Fred. Olsen, S.A. and Austal Ships cooperated on an extensive program of research, tank testing and other analysis to firstly develop a new design and then ensure it would meet Fred. Olsen, S.A.'s requirements in an efficient and cost-effective manner.

"Austal's research and development team worked with us to optimise the hullform, size and capacity of the vessel, structural design, construction materials and propulsion plant," explained Fred Olsen Jnr.
The result is a slender stabilized monohull, more commonly referred to as a trimaran.

"While we believe there will always be a significant role for catamarans in the fast ferry market, this vessel has the potential to provide enhanced passenger comfort in a wide range of sea conditions, thereby increasing the opportunities for their application. It really is a major breakthrough, and a logical progression from many years of development and experience with multihulled vessels," McKinnon said.

With power provided by four diesel engines driving waterjets, the Auto Express 126 trimaran will be able to maintain a projected service speed in excess of 40 knots and provides the capacity to carry 1,350 passengers, over 340 cars and a substantial number of trucks.

The superior seakeeping performance of the trimaran will provide Fred. Olsen, S.A.'s passengers with significantly enhanced levels of comfort compared to the company's existing fast ferries and is also expected to result in noticeably higher levels of operability.

"The characteristics of this new vessel, with a length of 126.7 metres and beam of 30 metres, will improve overall efficiency in terms of passenger capacity, deadweight and freight lane metres by more than 35%. At the same time passenger comfort will increase by 25% to 40% depending on the routes we operate," said Fred Olsen Jnr.

"Thanks to the close cooperation with the excellent Austal Ships' team," he said, "we have been able to develop a highly versatile vessel with many improvements over our current fast ship fleet. This trimaran should, for us, be the solution for many years to come and could very well set the standard for a new generation of large fast ferries. We believe our customers deserve the best."

McKinnon said the contract demonstrated Austal's world leadership in high-speed vessel design and construction and the value of having the resources and expertise to produce new designs that meet specific customer requirements.

"Product development capabilities are an integral part of being a diversified shipbuilder. Without them we would not have been able to secure this contract and take the commercial and military high-speed vessel markets into a new era," he said.

While the Auto Express 126 trimaran will set new industry standards for vessel performance, its design and construction are both soundly based.

The speed and seakeeping performance of the hullform has been verified by extensive analysis, including multiple tank testing sessions at some of the world's leading facilities. Austal has also built and trialed an 11 m manned technology demonstrator and has modeled the vessel's structure in detail using finite-element techniques.

The vessel will be constructed in Austal's existing facilities using techniques and materials that have been thoroughly proven and refined over many years through the construction of almost 100 previous aluminium vessels. The trimaran is expected to be no more difficult to build than a catamaran.

McKinnon said the project also clearly demonstrated Austal's ability to design and construct high-speed ships of the size required for current and future defence projects.

"This contract makes vessels of the size, speed and capacity required by the military a reality. The fact that a commercial operator of the stature of Fred. Olsen, S.A. has made such a significant investment shows enormous confidence in Austal's design and construction capabilities," he said.

A team led by General Dynamics and including Austal USA is offering a variant of the trimaran hullform for the US Navy's Littoral Combat Ship project, and Austal USA is also in the running to build a series of Theater Support Vessels for the U.S. Army.

Austal Ships has already built two high-speed catamarans of over 100 metres in length. One of these, the 101 metre "WestPac Express", has already proved highly successful in carrying out Theatre Support type duties for the US Marine Corps in the Western Pacific region.

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