H&W visitors: WESTPAC EXPRESS (Austal #130)

Also known as HSV-4676.

History and overview

WESTPAC EXPRESS is a 101m long passenger and vehicle carrying catamaran constructed in Australia by Austal.  She was originally intended to operate as a commercial high-speed ferry in Europe based on the Austal AutoExpress design, but was contracted to the United States Military Sealift Command instead. Her sister vessel VIRGEN DEL VALLE II (ex EUROFERRYS PACIFICA) operates as a passenger and vehicle ferry in Venezuela, and has only ever been used as a civilian ferry.

Since her completion in 2001 until late 2017 WESTPAC EXPRESS 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”.  In this capacity she participated in humanitarian and disaster relief missions as well as military exercises.  Notably she supported Operation Unified Assistance in Thailand after the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami in Asia, and provided support after the Tōhoku Tsunami in 2011.  In 2003 WESTPAC EXPRESS became the first large high-speed vessel to be registered and flagged as a commercial ship in the United States when her port of registry became Mobile in Alabama.  In her 16 years of military service WESTPAC EXPRESS had an excellent reliability record of 99.8%.  She was replaced in Okinawa by the USNS GUAM (the former (civilian) Hawaii Superferry vessel HUAKAI) which was delivered by some members of the same crew which delivered WESTPAC EXPRESS, completing a journey of around 20,000 miles over the 2 trips.

WESTPAC EXPRESS loading military vehicles. Austal
WESTPAC EXPRESS loading military vehicles. Austal.

Irish Continental group purchase

WESTPAC EXPRESS was purchased by Irish Continental Group, owners of Irish Ferries, from BALI Westpac 2006 LLC in April 2016 for US$13.25m.  However, she continued to be chartered to the US Military contractor Sealift LLC until late 2017.  In early January 2018 it was revealed on the NI Ferry (and shipping) Enthusiasts Facebook group (and the sister Ferries! Facebook group), that the former US Navy catamaran was due to arrive at Harland and Wolff for refurbishment on Monday 15th January 2018.  However, there was a change of plan, and following a quick stop at Holyhead’s T3 in the morning she arrived in Belfast on the afternoon of the 14th of January.

At the time Irish Continental Group had stated they had not yet made a decision whether to replace their existing fast craft on the Dublin to Holyhead route JONATHAN SWIFT with the larger WESTPAC EXPRESS or to charter her out externally, but they had confirmed that the vessel will be converted to passenger use and fitted out to their specifications.

WESTPAC EXPRESS in Belfast Lough approaching Belfast for the first time, where she is to be converted and refurbished for use as a civilian ferry. Copyright © Steven Tarbox
WESTPAC EXPRESS in Belfast Lough approaching Belfast for the first time, where she is to be converted and refurbished for use as a civilian ferry. Copyright © Steven Tarbox

The WESTPAC EXPRESS arrived in Europe from her former base in Naha (Okinawa) via Singapore, India, Oman, the Suez Canal, Malta and Algeciras where she sheltered for a while before making her way to Bilbao.  She left Bilbao (where she was also sheltering from weather) on the 12th January 2018 before crossing the Bay of Biscay, bound for Brest in France.  She called at Holyhead on the morning of 14th January following an overnight voyage from the French port, and arrived in Belfast that afternoon.

WESTPAC EXPRESS arrives in Belfast for conversion into a civilian ferry at Harland & Wolff on 14/01/18. Copyright © Scott Mackey.
WESTPAC EXPRESS arrives in Belfast for conversion into a civilian ferry at Harland & Wolff on 14/01/18. Copyright © Scott Mackey.

Irish Ferries service

On the 30th of January 2018, Irish Ferries announced that WESTPAC EXPRESS was to replace JONATHAN SWIFT, which would be sold to Spanish operator Balearia.  JONATHAN SWIFT is a smaller 86.6m long passenger and vehicle carrying catamaran also built to the Austal AutoExpress design, and has been in service on the Dublin – Holyhead route since her delivery from Austal to Irish Ferries in 1999.  It is not yet known what name WESTPAC EXPRESS will be given, or whether she will be fitted out any differently to the vessel she replaces.  JONATHAN SWIFT herself was dry-docked at Cammell-Laird Birkenhead at the end of January 2018, which is likely to be her last as an Irish Ferries vessel.  She shared the dry-dock with fleet-mate OSCAR WILDE.

On the 3rd of February WESTPAC EXPRESS moved to the Cypriot flag from the US flag, having passed the relevant surveys while alongside the Ship Repair Quay (SRQ) in Belfast.

 

Technical Data (prior to civilian use)

WESTPAC EXPRESS
IMO number9243227
Built2001

Austal Ships, Australia

Yard number130
ClassDNV GL 100 A5 HSC-Passenger B Ro-Ro Type OC3
OperatorSeaward Services (on behalf of the US Military)
Length Overall
(between perpendiculars)
101 metres
86.2m
Breadth26.64 metres
Draught4.29 metres
Gross tonnage (as built)8403
Machinery
  • 4 x Caterpillar 3618 V18 marine-diesel main engines, each producing 7,200 kW @ 1,050 rpm
  • 4 x Reintjes VLJ 6831 gearboxes
  • 4 x Rolls Royce KaMeWa 125 SII water jets
Service speed (with ride control)35 knots
Fuel consumption5.3t/h at 90% MCR
Passengers (as built)970 (seating for 900)
Vehicle capacity (as built)
  • A total 251 cars housed on main vehicle deck and hoistable mezzanine deck occupying the full length of both wings of the main vehicle deck
  • 16 articulated lorries (max) housed on the main vehicle deck only, with up to 96 cars also carried.
  • 152 hummers occupying the entire vehicle carrying space of 20,698 square feet.
    (4.7 – 5.1m clear height on central main deck, 2.7m at the sides, and 2.0m clear height on mezzanine.)
Vehicle accessBow and stern loading ramps.

 

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