Growing state’s Spirit

Since Bernard Dwyer became chief executive officer of TT-Line in 2014 passenger numbers have soared and customer satisfaction sits at 92 per cent.
Nanjing Night Net

FLOAT: TT-Line chief executive officer Bernard Dwyer sat down to discuss the company’s past and future. Picture: Supplied

From past triumphs to future challenges – Mr Dwyer sat down with The Advocate in Devonport for a chat.

Spirits’ capacityAt this time of the year tickets on the Spirit of Tasmania ships are hot property –especially if you have a trailer or caravan in tow.

The soaring passenger numbers combined with a full freight bay on the ships has frustrated many people trying to secure a spot.

But Mr Dwyer said improvements had been made to make space for passengers available.

“It’s probably less of an issue now with the likes of SeaRoad bringing their new tonnage up but it’s one of those things –we’ve got only a certain number of sailings we can do across Bass Strait and we’ve only got certain-sized vessels,” he said.

“A lot of the tourist industry and some of the peak production out of Tasmania happens at the same time so what we’ve done over the last few years is we’ve put a lot more day sailings on.

“I think it was only four years ago we had about 30 day sailings on –we’re up around the 130 daysailings now a year.

“Freight doesn’t really use day sailings –so that gives us more capacity for the over heights,caravans,but also a lot more capacity for tourists on the day sailings as well.”

Each ship can carry upwards of 1300 passengers on a day sailing but are restricted at night due to the number of cabins and seats.

While passenger numbers have grown 26 per cent since 2012-2013 freight has been stagnant at 1.9 per cent growth.

Over one year the ship’s usage has balanced at 60 per cent passengers and 40 per cent freight.

“That will probably change more in favour of passengers because we’ve put new day sailings on that has given us more capacity,” Mr Dwyer added.

He said afuture increase in day sailings would alleviate the capacitypressure but warned the company was “hitting a limit on the number of sailings we can do”.

“We’re still adjusting our schedules as best we can as well so there’s a little bit more room for more sailings next year which will be announced when the new schedules come out,” he said.

Freight futureWill the Spirit of Tasmania ships become exclusive to passengers?

“I don’t think so, no,” Mr Dwyer declared.

He said the Spirits’ “unique” schedule was the reason they needed to be used as freight ships.

“We’re last to leave Devonport or Melbourne and first to arrive in Devonport or Melbourne on the other side,” he said.

“For people that are transporting freight from around the state, because we leave last that gives them more capability to pick [produce]later and still be on their trailers and on the ship the same day – and straight into Melbourne and the distribution centres the next morning.

“We’re still in a niche area of that market in Tasmania and it’s so crucial to our fresh producers in the state.”

The capacity to ship freight across the Bass Strait is likely to continue to grow thanks to the planned addition of a new ship for SeaRoad and two new Toll Ships in Burnie.

But despite the future ship additions and the arrival of SeaRoad’s new $110 million, Mersey II in December, Mr Dwyer does not expect to see the Spirits’ freight rate drop.

“We’re very conscious and the government is very conscious that the Spirits are a key piece of infrastructure for that market coming in and out of Tasmania.”

A clean slateIn the early 2020s the existing red and white liners that sail into Devonport will be replaced.

A cabinet sub-committee has been formed to determine how the government will replace the two Spirits of Tasmania.

Protective of “confidential” cabinet discussions, Mr Dwyer is cautious when talking about what the new ships could look like but he described the project as a “clean sheet of paper”.

“We’re still planning how we replace those and put just as fast a ships, withdefinitely more capacity, on the Bass Strait,” he said.

“Being a really key piece of infrastructure for Tasmania – the Spirits – we need to take a 30-year view onanything we put on to Bass Strait.”

The lack of public detail about how the new ships will be acquired and the complexity of the task does not seem to bother Mr Dwyer.

Basic plans such as whether thenew Spirits would be built or purchased have not been decided.

Mr Dwyer did not discuss what would happen with the two existing ships but saidthe new Spirits would be more advanced and have a greater load capacity.

“We’d be wanting to make sure that freight and passengers don’t have to mix as they’re coming on and off the vessel and that just makes it more efficient for labour and discharge.”

Mr Dwyer said TT-Line was not “constrained by the Port of Devonport” and the new, larger ships, would continue to be based there rather than in other deep-water ports.

“There’s no plans for the Spirits to be based in Burnie and that’s certainly the government’s position –Devonport’s the home of the Spirits,” he said.

Border protectionSecurity on the Spirit of Tasmania is a priority for the company.

In October last year a fox carcass was smuggled onto the ship and there have been allegations of the ship being used for drug trafficking.

Despite the risks ofsecuritybreaches Mr Dwyer said the company was doing everything required.

“We work very closely with all the authorities and we operate within all the regulatory frameworks and comply with everything that’s required from border protection of this state,” he said.“Idon’t talk in detail about what we do but we fully comply.”

Pick up a copy of Monday’s paper for part two of the discussion with Mr Dwyer.This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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