October 6, 2003

HSV WestPac Express hoists U.S. flag

WestPac Express is now a U.S.-flag commercial vesselHaving completed two years of exemplary service supporting the operations of the U.S. Marine Corps' Third Marine Expeditionary Force (III MEF) in the Western Pacific theater, the 101 m Austal catamaran WestPac Express has achieved another distinction. It has become the first large high speed vessel to be registered and flagged as a commercial ship in the United States.

After a competitive bid process, the HSV was first chartered in July 2001 for a "proof of concept" period. This was so successful that the Military Sealift Command signed a three year charter in January 2002, again after receiving several competing offers. The III MEF charter was the first time the U.S. military had contracted a commercial vessel of this type for military support.

A requirement of the contract was that the vessel be re-flagged to the United States, a demanding process that has been achieved within the ship's normal maintenance periods and was managed by Austal Service.

Jim Black, Austal Service Manager, explained that in order to fly the U.S. flag, every aspect of the ship's design and construction was rigorously examined by the United States Coast Guard Marine Safety Center in Washington, D.C. The ship was subsequently inspected by Officer-in-Charge, Marine Inspection (OCMI) personnel from USCG Far East Activities (FEACT) based in Tokyo to ensure compliance with the applicable flag state requirements.

"The U..S.C.G. had never previously surveyed a lightweight, high-speed vehicle-carrying vessel before and to its credit was extremely thorough in its approach," said Black. "For example, every one of the ship's drawings were scrutinized in detail and on numerous occasions it was necessary for Austal to justify certain aspects to the U.S.C.G., even though the ship is classed by one of the world's leading classification societies and built to the IMO's HSC Code."

"Meeting US flag requirements for this type of vessel is not the simple process that some may think," said Black, adding it would "be challenging for organizations that do not have the depth of high speed vessel experience and professional engineering expertise that exists within the Austal group.".

The new port of registry for WestPac Express is Mobile, Alabama where Austal has a modern shipyard that specializes in the construction of high performance aluminum vessels. A joint venture with Bender Shipbuilding and Repair, Austal USA brings Austal's world-leading aluminium ship design and manufacturing capabilities to the United States' commercial and military vessel markets.

Austal USA has already completed six commercial vessels, ranging in size from 25 m to 43 m and is currently building a 58 m fast passenger-vehicle catamaran. On the military front, Austal USA is playing a key role in one of the three teams awarded contracts for the preliminary design of the U..S Navy's new high speed Littoral Combat Ships and is also preparing to bid for the U.S. Army's forthcoming Theater Support Vessel project.

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