Ferry Business - Autumn/Winter 2023

89 FEATURED INTERVIEW TT-Line Company’s Bernard Dwyer discusses with Philippe Holthof the two next-generation Spirit of Tasmania ro-pax ferries that will soon join the Tasmania-based fleet Dawn of a new era Spirit of Tasmania’s newbuilding project at Finland’s Rauma Marine Constructions (RMC) shipyard represents a first for the Tasmaniaheadquartered ro-pax ferry operator, which has hitherto relied on the secondhand market. The operator’s existing vessels, which connect Devonport with Geelong in mainland Australia, were completed by the then Kvaerner Masa Yards (now Meyer Turku) for Superfast Ferries 25 years ago. However, both Spirit of Tasmania I and II were refurbished from stem to stern in 2015. “Our current vessels are operating very well,” says Bernard Dwyer, CEO and managing director of TT-Line Company, which operates the only two ro-pax ferries that connect the Australian mainland with the island state of Tasmania. “We are not offloading these vessels because they are too old but simply because they can no longer cope with demand. We have very long booking lead times and long waiting lists with demand far exceeding supply.” Reviewing fleet size and fleet configuration to eventually design a newbuild from the keel up has been a very long process that started in 2009. But it wasn’t all plain sailing. Spirit of Tasmania’s initial two-ship contract signed with Germany’s Flensburger Schiffbau-Gesellschaft (FSG) yard in spring 2018 became void in February 2020 as the financially beleaguered shipyard was struggling to obtain export guarantees. Concurrent with the mutual cancellation of the FSG contract, a memorandum of understanding was signed with RMC, the Finnish yard that had earlier been shortlisted for the project. Two months later and the world was in Covid-19 lockdown. This was why the Tasmanian Government requested TT-Line Company to reconsider building in Finland and rather explore local procurement and manufacturing options, making decisions that presented the greatest opportunity for local and Australian manufacturers. Spirit of Tasmania ultimately signed a firm contract with RMC in April 2021 and, as Dwyer explains, “we’ve always been driven as a company by using local products and services.” “ We have seen an increase in travellers with caravans and campervans” Spirit of Tasmania I is one of only two ro-pax ferries connecting mainland Australia with the island state of Tasmania Photo: Spirit of Tasmania