Ferry services to Venezuela's Margarita Island will be further revolutionised with the delivery of a second 86m vehicle/passenger catamaran to Conferry. Built in Western Australia by Austal Ships, "Lilia Concepcion" will join a fleet that already includes a similar Austal fast ferry, "Carmen Ernestina", delivered in 1999.
Austal's Managing Director, Mr Bob McKinnon said, "Every delivery is a special occasion for Austal, but the fact that Conferry has returned to us for this second vessel makes this delivery especially satisfying.
"A repeat order from such an experienced and reputable operator is a tremendous vote of confidence in Austal and the ships we build," Mr McKinnon said.
The outstanding operational and commercial success of "Carmen Ernestina" was a major factor in Austal securing the follow-up order - thoughts which were echoed by Conferry's President, Mr Rodolfo Tovar, at the christening ceremony for "Lilia Concepcion".
"The "Carmen Ernestina" has radically transformed the trade to Margarita Island, changing the mentality of our passengers," Mr Tovar said.
"She definitely brought about the most important change in Venezuelan merchant marine trade, which really makes us proud."
The introduction of the company's second Auto Express 86 catamaran will also facilitate a significant change in Margarita Island travel.
In the past, travellers from the Caracas area have faced a four hour drive on congested, poorly maintained roads to reach the ferry terminal at Puerto La Cruz, from where "Carmen Ernestina" and most of Conferry's conventional ferries depart for Margarita. The experience operating its first Auto Express 86 led Conferry to conclude that Austal's fast ferry technology could be used to open up a new route linking the island with the port of La Guaira, near Caracas, and thus eliminate the inconvenient road trip and reduce the total travelling time appreciably.
Trials carried out with "Carmen Ernestina" showed that the proposed service, which would not have been viable using conventional ferries, was both technically and commercially feasible using the Austal Auto
Express and the order for "Lilia Concepcion" followed.
Increased capability and higher efficiency
The stylish aluminium catamaran not only offers a far more direct service for up to 828 passengers and 243 cars, but has also been configured to carry trucks - another first for the Venezuelan fast ferry industry. For Conferry, this capability provides a year round source of income to supplement its more seasonal tourist traffic, while freight companies benefit from a significant reduction in transit time compared to the alternative of driving to Puerto La Cruz and taking a slower conventional ferry.
The addition of truck capability is one of a number of significant differences between "Lilia Concepcion" and Conferry's first Auto Express 86. Featuring bow and stern doors for highly efficient drive-through operation, the garage deck has also been enhanced through the addition of a hoistable mezzanine deck. With this raised, 10 trucks may be carried in the three central lanes, which are strengthened for an axle loads of up to 12 tons. When the deck is lowered, a total of 243 cars can be carried, 21.5% more than on "Carmen Ernestina".
Also distinguishing "Lilia Concepcion" from the five previous Auto Express 86 deliveries are changes hidden below the waterline. Austal's hugely successful semi-SWATH hull form has been further enhanced as part of the West Australian shipbuilder's policy of ongoing technical development. Combining these with weight savings achieved through ongoing improvements in structural design, engineering, materials selection and construction techniques, results in improved operating performance and economy.
Utilizing the same propulsion package as "Carmen Ernestina" (4 x Caterpillar (CAT)
3618 diesels each driving a Kamewa waterjet), Austal's latest Auto Express
86 achieved a loaded speed of just under 41 knots at 90% power during sea trials. This represents an increase of 1.5 knots over the contract speed.
To ensure that the passengers' journey is as comfortable as it is fast, "Lilia Concepcion" is fitted with a Seastate Motion Control System incorporating active interceptors aft. Forward T-foils are not considered necessary for Conferry's service, however provision has been made to allow these to be retrofitted in the future if desired.
Demonstrating Austal's commitment to work with its customers to develop the optimal solution to their needs, "Lilia Concepcion" incorporates a number of other minor but significant refinements. Developed in conjunction with Conferry, these are based on operational experience with "Carmen Ernestina" and the particular requirements of the longer Margarita to La Guaira route.
Comfortable accommodation for passengers and crew
The ferry's bright, modern interior provides dual class accommodation for up to 828 passengers, with seating for 143 VIP passengers in the bridge deck lounge and a total of 725 seats on the upper deck. High quality commercial materials and fittings are used throughout, ensuring pleasant surroundings for all passengers and durability and ease of maintenance for the operator.
Foot passengers embark via wide doors amidships on the upper deck and enter a spacious atrium that includes lounge seating, a passenger information desk, luggage racks and the ship's shop.
Attractive yet practical Amtico flooring is a feature of this high traffic area, as is the stunning central staircase that leads to the bridge deck and draws the eye to a domed skylight that fills the space with natural light.
The port aft quarter is the designated "Children's Corner" where younger travellers will be attracted by the ball pit's feature entrance and a tiered mini-cinema showing children's programs.
Beside the cinema is a lift providing wheelchair access to and from the vehicle deck. Staircases forward and aft on each side also link the upper deck with the vehicle deck.
Naturally "Lilia Concepcion" is fully air-conditioned and all passengers are entertained and informed via an integrated public address and audio entertainment system. The ship's video distribution system is linked to color television monitors that have been strategically located throughout the passenger areas to ensure maximum viewing opportunities.
Arranged for a three man bridge team, the wheelhouse is fitted with, among other items, external communications equipment complying with GMDSS Area A2 requirements; CCTV monitors at the Master, Chief Officer and Engineer's positions; inter-switched X and S band ARPA radars; ECDIS; DGPS receiver; speed log; wind instruments; autopilot; gyro and magnetic compasses and an echo sounder. Steering can be carried using levers mounted on either the Master or Chief Officer's chairs, or from the bridge wing stations designed for maximum vision when berthing and manoeuvring.