Government’s ‘hands-off’ approach to TT-Line ship deal criticised

INVESTMENT: An artist's impression of one of the new Spirit of Tasmania vessels. Picture: Flensburger Schiffbau-Gesellschaft
Article from the Advocate newspaper

The state government’s failure to step-in to ensure the on-time delivery of two new Spirit of Tasmania ships has been criticised as TT-Line is set to meet with the troubled shipbuilder this week. 

Questions raised by the Labor party regarding the ability of German shipyard Flensburger Schiffbau-Gesellschaft to fulfill its contract to deliver the new vessels by 2021 follow the resignation of the Tasmanian-based project leader on Sunday. 

FSG has been plagued with financial difficulties and, despite being bailed out from near-bankruptcy by a German investor in recent months, industry reports say a number of engineers have left the company causing delays on the ships scheduled to be completed by FSG before construction starts on the two Spirits. 

A TT-Line spokesman said the meeting this week was the latest in a series of meetings since TT-Line announced FSG was experiencing financial difficulties in February this year.

The spokesman said the timeline for the delivery of the ships had not changed since the contract with FSG was signed, with the vessels due to be in service by the end of 2021. 

The ships are currently in their design stage with their construction to begin after FSG completes a vessel for Irish Ferries.

A more detailed timeline regarding the stages of the build was not available as the ships were not started yet, the spokesman said. 

Treasurer Peter Gutwein said TT-Line would work through what he labelled the “obvious challenges” facing FSG with the shipyard. 

When asked why the Tasmanian-based project leader resigned, Mr Gutwein said “people come and go in companies all the time”.

Mr Gutwein said the new Spirits would be fully funded in the budget over the next four years and, because the contract is in euros, the government has hedged additional funds.

“We haven’t paid any money to the company, nor will we until we have a guarantee of delivery in place,” Mr Gutwein said. 

Labor infrastructure spokesman David O’Byrne said it was unacceptable the government was taking a hands-off approach to the ships’ delivery. 

“What we are seeing is leaks and stories coming from Europe and now TT-Line itself. It’s not good enough for them not to brief the Tasmanian people on the status on what is one of the most important infrastructure projects in the state’s history,” Mr O’Byrne said.

Mr O’Byrne said industry reports of key staff leaving FSG caused him to question the timing of the delivery of the vessels.

“The TT-Line replacement vessels are very important for the state,” he said, stating the new ships were crucial to meet the growing demands of freight and tourism.