Big cat steams on to the radar for crisis work- Bruce Stannard June 27, 2011
"THE Defence Department is considering acquiring a 112- metre wave-piercing catamaran as part of a new regional rapid-reaction strategy for the Royal Australian Navy. The $100 million jet-powered vessel, now nearing completion in Hobart, will be capable of speeds of up to 40 knots, delivering a 1000-tonne payload within hours to any destination within 2000 nautical miles of the coast.
Designed and built by Incat Tasmania, the as-yet-unnamed vessel has completed immersion tests and is expected to be ready for official sea trials within two or three weeks. The ship could be operational within a month if defence approves its acquisition. An identical sister ship, now operated as a ferry, played a vital relief role when chartered by government authorities for use in the tsunami crisis, quickly moving many tonnes of emergency supplies and relief workers to devastated cities in Japan's north-east.
Japanese authorities are believed to be so impressed with the vessel's performance that they are considering buying several more identical vessels. High-ranking navy officers are understood to have held talks with their counterparts in Japan on further co-operation. The jet cats, which can reach Fiji from Australia in less than two days or Christchurch within 24 hours, could reach any part of the natural disaster-prone Indonesian archipelago within hours. The vast aluminium hulls, with a beam of 31 metres, are not only able to carry prodigious quantities of emergency supplies, but also act as floating hospitals and can easily navigate shallow waters.Equipped with helicopters and roll-on, roll-off ramps, they can quickly discharge large volumes of human-itarian aid and play a vital reconnaissance and recovery role. Three of the vessels have served with the US Navy and the US Army. The RAN was slow to recognise their value until the Timor crisis in 1999 when an 86-metre jet cat ferry, previously running between Melbourne and Hobart, was leased by the navy. Renamed HMAS Jervis Bay, the ship earned the nickname Dili Express as she transported personnel and materiel over the Timor Sea continuously for the two years of the emergency.
If the navy does acquire the latest 112-metre jet cat, the vessel is expected to be based in Sydney or Darwin. Incat's chairman, Robert Clifford, confirmed that the proposal was being considered by defence. "Ideally, we could have rapid response sister ships, one in Japan and the other in Australia, sharing responsibility for attending to the kind of emergency situations that develop up north,'' Mr Clifford said. ''Defence has been considering the proposal for two months and we would like to think that they are warmly disposed to the idea.”