Global logistics player, Toll, has officially launched two new roll-on, roll-off (ro-ro) ships for the carriage of trucks and containers across the Bass Strait between mainland Australia and the island of Tasmania. Extra capacity is sorely needed on this growing trade. The first commercial sailing begins in just a few days, on March 1.
The two new ships, the Tasmanian Achiever II and the Victorian Reliance II, are bigger and faster than their predecessors. They have a different internal configuration too, which should speed up load and discharge times.
Toll’s two new ships are near-identical sister ships. The two new vessels will sail between the port city of Melbourne on the southern Australian coast and the town of Burnie, located on the northern shore of Tasmania. They will have an estimated average speed of 21 knots and are forecast to sail the 251-mile (403.66 km) Bass Strait in about 12 to 13 hours, about an hour or two quicker than the predecessor vessels. They will provide a twice-daily service that runs Monday to Saturday. The service offered by the ships will also offer later cut-off times and receivals.
“Faster means it handles the weather conditions better. It means improved, sustained on-time arrival, it means shippers’ cargo gets into the market quicker. We have to connect with interstate, we have to hit that connection. With that extra hour, it’s what the truck drivers need to get up the road on time,” Steve Borg, Toll’s executive general manager – Tasmania & shipping, explained to FreightWaves.
Bigger means better
The ships aren’t just faster than their predecessors; they’re bigger too. The two new vessels have an overall length between perpendiculars (i.e. bow-to-stern) of 210 metres with a draught (the distance between the waterline and the bottom of the hull) of 6.9 metres. The predecessor ships, the Tasmanian Achiever and the Victorian Reliance, had capacity for 500 twenty-foot equivalent (TEU) containers, 25 trailers and 40 cars. The two new ships have space for 700 TEU capacity, 70 trailers and 70 cars.
With a 700-TEU capacity, the new ships have 40 percent more capacity. The vessels will be able to exchange 1,400 boxes (700 on; 700 off) in the loading and discharge window. The new ships have 260 reefer plugs along with 3,500 lane metres. They’re voluminous too, with just over 28,700 gross tons. They new ships have three decks and a car ‘tween deck. They also have fixed inner ramps too, which will allow simultaneous loading and unloading.
“The existing ships have an independent movable deck which slows cargo operations. It limits the time the cargo can come off the weather deck. It’s a massive change for service and capacity. It’s a game-changer,” says Borg.
The vessels feature MAN engines with an engine power of 20,430 kW. The ships were built at China’s Nanjing Jinling Shipyard. Toll employed Tritec Marine as the supervisor of the ships’ construction. TriTec were involved with initial contract specification, plan approval, ship yard selection, machinery testing and on-site management of the build.
“They were fantastic to work with,” says Borg.
The vessels are classed with Lloyd’s Register and, because they will serve a protected cabotage trade, they are required by local law to fly the Australian flag.
The new ships are greener than their predecessors too. They will plug into the local power grid while at berth, rather than running their own engines for power. The vessels have also been built to comply with the IMO 2020 sulfur emissions standards and feature on board scrubbers for emissions filtering.
Toll intends to sell the predecessor vessels, the Tasmanian Achiever and the Victorian Reliance, on the second-hand market.
Hundreds of millions of AU$ in upgrades
In total, Toll is investing AU$311 million to upgrade its Bass Strait capacity. The new vessels cost AU$86 million each. Deploying larger ships required an infrastructure upgrade at the McGaw wharf, Burnie and also at Webb Dock, Melbourne. Those construction projects are underway; there is a process in place to allow cargo operations during the construction disruption.
At Burnie, upgrades include the replacement of new shore-side ramps, improvement of the mooring system, upgraded wharf-fenders and new concrete dolphins to take longer mooring lines. Dredging also took place, with 8,500 cubic metres of silt, clay and sandstone removed from the berth. A new shore-to-ship ramp will be installed which is 27 metres wide and 24 metres long. It weighs just under 170 tonnes.
A similar, albeit slightly smaller, ramp will be installed in Melbourne at Webb Dock. The ramp It is 27 metres wide and 10 metres long. It weighs just under 100 tonnes. Webb Dock will also be dredged to ensure adequate draught at the wharf and in the berth approaches. Existing concrete scour-pad protection will be removed and replaced.
Commenting on the reasons for deploying the new ships, Borg told FreightWaves that the predecessor vessels are now about 20 years old, which is close to the end of the generally accepted 25-year lifespan of a marine vessel. Older vessels are typically costlier to run.
“You can run longer, but, how much do you want to spend?” Borg asks.
But that’s not the only reason that Toll is deploying the two new vessels.
“We have listened to customers for the last five years. Customers have been telling us that there is insufficient space on the Bass Strait. They tell us they can’t grow and that they can only maintain the status quo. The restrictions on capacity limited their growth. For Toll, Tasmania and the Bass Strait is a significant business. Toll is committed to investing in Tasmania,” Borg says.
Bass Strait cargo volumes
Cargo volumes on the Bass Strait are all hubbed through Melbourne as Tasmania doesn’t really have the volumes to support port calls by international shipping (although the international maritime carrier MSC does run a feeder service from Bell Bay, Tasmania, into Melbourne). There’s about 250,000 TEU on the Bass Strait; 137,000 TEU leaves Melbourne for Tasmania and about 113,000 TEU comes back the other way.
Borg gives some insight into the nature of the trans-Bass Strait trade. He explained to FreightWaves that ro-ro cargoes include mining equipment, dry bulk minerals, scrap metals, fast-moving consumer goods for retail, time-sensitive perishable reefer cargoes (dairy, seafood, stone-fruit) and “lots of inputs to manufacturing.”
Borg’s comments are backed up by Brett Charlton, chairman of the Tasmanian Logistics Committee. He points out that, until a few years ago, Tasmanian cargo volumes were growing at about 2.5 percent a year. But over time, that has crept up to about six percent a year.
“It’s good for the next 10 years but if we keep up growth we would want more capacity. Right now, it’s a problem that I’d like to think we would have with capacity in 10 years! We’re quite buoyant with exports. We do hope we have this problem,” he said to FreightWaves.
Charlton points to growth in aquaculture (salmon farming), forestry products, industrial goods and shipping containers as being the key drivers of cargo volumes. Forestry products, in particular, have been drivers of increased cargo volumes with 8.7 percent growth recorded in the six months to December 2018.
He reserved judgment on whether various aspects of the new service – such as the shorter crossing time and a forecast quicker loading/discharge time – would materialise. “I’ve yet to see how it will work,” he says.
Capacity constraints eased
FreightWaves and Charlton discussed the overall capacity on the trade. Rival operator SeaRoad currently deploys two ro-ro vessels, “SeaRoad Mersey” and “SeaRoad Tamar,” which offer two daily sailings.
Charlton says the smaller of the two SeaRoad vessels may be replaced with a bigger ship. TT Line operates two ro-pax vessels, “Spirit of Tasmania I” and “Spirit of Tasmania II”, which also offer two daily sailings. They carried 105,208 TEU in 2018. And now Toll is putting in two ships that, while also offering two daily sailings, are also considerably bigger than their predecessor vessels.
Charlton hopes that, with the increase in capacity by Toll, there could be a fall in the freight rates.
“Extra capacity may lend itself to competitive pressures. But it remains to be seen – they haven’t had to compete owing to the fact that there has been full capacity. Price reductions are hoped for, but it will remain to be seen,” Charlton said to FreightWaves.