Austal Limited secured a three-year contract with Military Sealift Command of the United States Military for the WestPac Express, a 331 ft.-high speed Theatre Support Vessel. This is the first time the US Military has contracted a commercial vessel of this type for military support. WestPac Express will be used for operations supporting the Third Marine Expeditionary Force (IIIMEF) of the United States Marine Corps. The three-year contract follows an extensive trial of the vessel during a ‘proof of concept’ charter period entered into between Austal and the US Military in July 2001. The vessel will be chartered from the financier for the contract with the United States Military. WestPac Express enables III MEF to rapidly transport a complete battalion of more than 950 marines together with up to 550 tons of vehicles and equipment in one lift. During the term of the charter the vessel will continue to transport marine battalions, vehicles and equipment between the IIIMEF base at Okinawa and other ports in Japan and the Western Pacific region. WestPac Express will be re-flagged in the United States during the course of the contract, establishing a benchmark as the first commercial vessel of this type to be registered and flagged in the United States.