4 September 2023

New arrival to shore up Sea Swift, but will it spell the end for the Trinity Bay?

| Matt Nicholls
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The future of the Trinity Bay is now up in the air with the arrival of the Newcastle Bay II, with Sea Swift in discussions to re-fit or sell the 25-year-old vessel.

SEA Swift’s much-anticipated new vessel will be in service for the wet season, the CEO has confirmed.

Dwayne Freeman said Weipa residents could expect to see the Newcastle Bay II steam into the port in November.

“I can’t wait,” he said.

“It’s been a long while in the coming and it’s so close now.”

Mr Freeman said Sea Swift was waiting on a sail date for the new vessel to depart Indonesia so it could come to Cairns, but expected that to be in October.

“Our own crew will sail it across, so they’ll have a period of time on the vessel for that trip,” he said.

“We’ll have to do some trials and some dummy runs to make sure we’re commissioning in the equipment and all that, and then we’ll pick a live date and take it from there.

“Unless something goes wrong we’re aiming to have it in commission in Q4 this year.

“Realistically, we’re looking at sometime in November.”

The CEO, who took the job in July last year, admitted that he was frustrated by the delays, but said some were unavoidable.

“The vessel has been constructed by a third-party vessel construction company but for the whole time our project team has been over there with it,” he told Cape York Weekly.

“We’ve got various staff that go over there – masters, engineers and the crew are all over there right now preparing the vessel.

“So we’ve had a significant number of staff over there at various stages, and certainly the project team has been there since the start of construction.

The Newcastle Bay II should be operating in the Cape by November this year.

“Through COVID we actually suspended the construction of the vessel for the reason that we couldn’t get our own project teams over there to manage and monitor the construction of the vessel.

“And, given the vessel had a layoff period where it wasn’t under construction … as with all builds you have issues and we have had issues around pitting and some electrical stuff.

“Having said that, those issues are now under control and the vessel has passed its sea trials so now we’re waiting for the sail date to bring it over.

“We’re pretty confident that when it gets here, it’ll be it’ll be full speed ahead.”

The arrival of the Newcastle Bay could signal the death of the Trinity Bay, however.

Sea Swift’s workhorse and best-performing vessel over the past two decades might be sold.

The Trinity Bay is currently anchored just outside the Cairns harbour, unable to be used as it waits for an out-of-water survey, a requirement of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.

The Sea Swift CEO and board are currently assessing their options. Do they keep the Trinity Bay and get the vessel surveyed and re-fitted, or do they sell her?

Mr Freeman said the pending arrival of the Newcastle Bay gave Sea Swift some breathing room.

“We’re lucky enough to have a large fleet and that gives us flexibility in what we can do, unlike some other companies,” he said.

“The Trinity Bay was always going to have to come out of the water at some stage anyway and we’re in the process of working through where that is and whether we re-fit her.

“We don’t need her right now as we’ve got other vessels that are doing the tasks that we’ve got.

“She would have gone out (for surveying) earlier, but with the Newcastle Bay pushing back, we kept her in service longer to service our customers.

“That means there’s a short period of time where she’ll be not in revenue service and not getting a re-fit.

“A decision (on her future) is imminent and there are lots of decisions to be made in terms of what our fleet configuration looks like going forward.

“When they are not young vessels you have got to make a choice on whether we go and build a new vessel, acquire a new vessel, or re-fit an old vessel.

“Those decisions aren’t taken lightly and I’m sure myself and the board will come up with a decision in the next number of weeks.”

The Newcastle Bay II is two years behind schedule.

In the meantime, Sea Swift is now facing pressure on the reliability of its fleet, with very little wriggle room if a vessel were to break down.

However, the CEO is remaining relaxed about the situation.

“I’m a pretty cool and calm man; I’m not really sweating about it,” he said.

“One of those things you do to try and reduce cost to your customers is to make sure you’re as efficient as possible, which means you don’t tend to hold a range of vessels in your fleet just hanging around.

“So you’ve always got these transition risks. We’re pretty comfortable with the timeframes at the moment.”

Should the Trinity Bay be sold, it would mark the end of an era.

Originally a sand dredge in the late 1990s, Sea Swift took over the vessel in 2000 and converted it to a commercial cargo ship.

It’s been the mainstay of the company for two decades.

Mr Freeman said the addition of the Newcastle Bay would give customers more freight capacity and greater reliability.

“The vessel itself does have a greater capacity … at the moment we operate a hybrid model of three vessels,” he said.

“Another benefit is speed. While the schedule might not change, we should see less delays for weather.

“If the vessel can, under all conditions, effectively get to the location in an easier way, you remove the variability out of the schedule, where at times with weather conditions, it’s difficult for the other vessels to maintain that schedule.

“So one of the big benefits here is meeting our customers’ requirements in terms of schedule compliance.

“It’s quite a large vessel so it’ll be striking when we see it for the first time.”

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