Austal USA has secured an order for the construction of a 192-ft. vehicle-passenger ferry from Milwaukee-based Lake Express LLC. The aluminum catamaran will be the largest vessel so far constructed at the company’s purpose-built shipyard in Mobile, Ala.
The Auto Express 58 (58m) will set a number of firsts for the US shipbuilding and ferry industries, including:
· The first high-speed vehicle-passenger ferry to operate in the continental United States;
· The first aluminum vehicle-passenger ferry that will be designed and built to the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 46 Subchapter K in the USA, thereby providing an affordable transport solution for high-speed vessels and opening the door for many more applications in the future; and
· The first high-speed vehicle-passenger ferry to operate on Lake Michigan.
With capacity for 253 passengers and 46 cars, the Auto Express 58 will be capable of 34 knots. It will link the cities of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Muskegon in Michigan, crossing Lake Michigan in just over two hours, thus saving passengers a lengthy drive around the southern shore of Lake Michigan, including traffic congestion in Chicago. The service is scheduled to begin by the summer of 2004.
“Austal’s Auto Express vehicle ferries provide a modern, efficient and proven solution to alleviate traffic issues in many parts of the United States,” said Mr Chris Pemberton, Austal USA’s Vice President of Marketing and Sales.
“The scope for further US applications of this technology is very large indeed, and our position in the Austal Group gives us better credentials in the design and construction of this type of ferry than any other US shipyard.”
The Managing Director of Austal Ships, Mr Bob McKinnon, said the contract was another important step forward for Austal’s plans to build large high-speed vessels for commercial and military customers in the United States.
“Securing this contract is another milestone achievement in Austal USA’s progressive building of capacity and skills which will enable us to construct even larger ferries and fast ships for the US Department of Defence,” Mr McKinnon said.
“With the Austal USA shipyard and workforce now well-established, and backed by the accumulated experience and resources of Austal Ships, we are in an excellent position to take advantage of the opportunities the US market promises.”
Austal USA is already part of a team, led by General Dynamics, that is bidding for the US Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship project. This may eventually require up to 60 ships, each of around 390ft (120 meters) in length. The US Army is also seeking to acquire a number of similarly sized ships for use as high-speed Theatre Support Vessels.
Based on Austal’s proven Auto Express technology, the new catamaran for Lake Express will
have a single, drive-through vehicle deck to minimize turnaround time and a spacious, dual-class passenger cabin on the upper deck. This features a 50 passenger VIP lounge, and a mixture of aircraft style and table and chair arrangements in tourist class. A large kiosk will provide passengers with a range of refreshments on the crossing, and there is also a separate play area for children.
The needs of passengers with disabilities have been considered from the outset and there is ADA access to the main and upper decks (via a lift), wide aisles for ease of movement, and an ADA bathroom.
Austal USA has recently delivered a 135ft monohull dinner cruise vessel and is also preparing to launch a 143ft passenger catamaran. Both vessels will operate in New York. Previous completions include two 150ft crew/supply vessels, an 86ft passenger ferry and a 111ft dinner cruise catamaran.