As revealed earlier in the week on the NI Ferry (and shipping) Enthusiasts Facebook group (and the sister Ferries! Facebook group), the former US Navy Austal built catamaran WESTPAC EXPRESS is due to arrive at Harland and Wolff for refurbishment on Monday. WESTPAC EXPRESS was purchased by Irish Continental Group, owners of Irish Ferries, in April 2016 for €13.25m but continued to be chartered to the US Military contractor Sealift LLC until late 2017.
Since her completion in 2001 WESTPAC EXPRESS has operated as a Theatre Support Vessel (TSV) in the Western Pacific, capable of deploying an entire battalion of marines along with their support vehicles in a single "lift", however she is now to be fully converted to passenger operation. Irish Continental Group have stated they have not yet made a decision whether to replace their existing fast craft JONATHAN SWIFT with the larger WESTPAC EXPRESS or to charter the latter vessel out externally, but they have confirmed that the vessel will be converted to passenger use and fitted out to their specifications. JONATHAN SWIFT currently operates on the busy Dublin to Holyhead route, and ICG say replacing her with with the former US Military vessel would increase capacity by around 20%. However, it’s certainly likely that one of the two ships will be chartered out or potentially sold.
Update Friday 12/01/18: WESTPAC EXPRESS has now left Bilbao where she was sheltering from weather before crossing the Bay of Biscay, and is en-route to Brest. This is expected to be the last stop on her voyage to Belfast from her former base at Okinawa in Japan.
Update Saturday 13/01/18: Now expected in Holyhead tomorrow morning before arriving in Belfast later on Sunday.
Update 14/01/18 AM: Arrived at Holyhead this morning and appears to have berthed bow-in at Terminal 3 around 08:20. She is expected to arrive at Belfast's Ship Repair Quay this evening
Austal, Henderson, Western Australia
|Class||DNV GL 100 A5 HSC-Passenger B Ro-Ro Type OC3|
|Service speed (with ride control)||35 knots|