October 29, 2005
Austal USA firms up Superferry contract
Austal USA says full contract funding has now been confirmed for the order of two Austal Auto Express, 107-meter (353-foot) vehicle-passenger ferries for Hawaii Superferry (HSF), making the contract unconditional.
Construction of the first ferry has been underway since June 2004 at Austal's Mobile, Alabama shipyard based on initial funding from Hawaii Superferry and a strategic decision by Austal to advance work on the project in order to develop the workforce in readiness for the Littoral Combat Ship order. On present planning, the first ferry is due for delivery in December 2006. The second ferry will start in the second half of 2006 and is due for completion in first half of 2009.
The U.S. Maritime Administration has approved a $139,731,000 Title XI loan guarantee, or approximately 78.5 percent of a total shipbuilding project cost of $178 million, allowing the company to go forward with a $210 million financial closing agreement signed by the Hawaii Superferry, investors and the government, according to Hawaii media reports.
Reportedly, the financial closing, which included a $71 million investment from a group led by J.H. Lehman & Co., follows an agreement between the ferry company and the state lthat will see HSF pay the state a minimum of $2.3 million a year to use the harbors. The company also will pay state harbor usage fees and the 4 percent general excise tax. The state is providing about $40 million in barges and other equipment that will be used by the ferry operation.
The agreement with the state also requires Superferry to provide more detailed operating plans and studies on such potential problems as traffic and environmental concerns before it begins service.
Greg Metcalf, Austal USA's CEO, expressed excitement about the Hawaii Superferry project.
"Austal USA is delighted to be building the largest aluminum commercial ships ever constructed in the United States," he said. "The advanced catamaran design is based on a similar Austal ferry operated by Euroferrys in the Mediterranean Sea and is well suited to their operation. We know how these ships have brought people closer and helped create new jobs in other markets around the world, and we are delighted to be part of Hawaii Superferry's program."
Hawaii Superferry plans to use Austal fast ferry technology to establish Hawaii's first high-speed vehicle-passenger service. Each catamaran will carry 866 passengers and 282 vehicles and provide services connecting Honolulu to Maui and Kauai in three hours and from Honolulu to the Big Island in four hours.
Timothy Dick, Hawaii Superferry's Chairman, said, "Austal USA was chosen on the basis of its world-class shipbuilding facilities, expertise in aluminum design and construction, and unrivalled worldwide experience with high-speed roll-on / roll-off ferries."
Commenting on the stringent environmental focus placed on Hawaii Superferry's proposed service, John Garibaldi, Hawaii Superferry CEO, stated, "Our ferries, because of the short inter-island distances, use just one-tenth of the fuel per passenger compared to flying, and our vessels have zero wastewater discharge to protect our oceans."
Hawaii Superferry will cost about half the price of flying with an experience more like a mini-cruise in what will be a unique form of transportation in the United States. There will be multiple dining options, including a coffee and juice bar, fast food, and a "Taste of the Islands" restaurant and full bar.
Unlimited self-serve soft drinks will be complimentary. A variety of seats will be available, ranging from restaurant-type groupings around tables to comfortable reclining aircraft-style armchairs to family tables surrounded with reclining seats.
Vessels will load via stern ramps and, for the comfort of passengers when boarding, dry exhaust stacks have been designed to direct main engine exhaust fumes away from the ramps and other passenger areas.
The ferry's propulsion system will consist of four diesel engines and waterjets to provide a service speed of 37 knots.
The new contract takes the number of Austal vessels on order across the group's four shipyards to 25 and reinforces a strong continuity of work for both Australian and US operations. This includes the recently announced 127-meter (417-foot) Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) trimaran for the US Navy.
Austal's history is synonymous with fast ferries. The company has built 80 vessels of this kind and, while a significant portion of the current order book is derived from the defense sector, contracts such as this demonstrate that Austal is maintaining its focus as the world's foremost builder of high-speed commercial transport vessels.