Liberals opt for a $10m ferries upgrade

THE Liberal government has rejected a proposal to run two freight-only ships across Bass Strait, in favour of a $10million refurbishment of the existing Spirit of Tasmania ferries.

The announcement has disappointed the tourism industry and surprised Tasmanian farmers, who are seeking an urgent briefing, while private freight moving companies are relieved.

State-owned ferry operators TT-Line had recommended the state government buy or lease freight-only ships to enable more space for passengers and their cars, but the previous government failed to make a decision before the March election.

Infrastructure Minister Rene Hidding yesterday refused to explain why the new government rejected the recommendation.

Mr Hidding said the government's alternative plan to upgrade the ships next year would create more seating, which could be used during extra day sailings.

The ships are due to be replaced in 2022, but Mr Hidding said they may last longer.

"They're in good nick," he said.

About 20 per cent of goods shipped across Bass Strait are carried by the ferries, which offer the quickest transport time, and this will be maintained.

That's angered the tourism industry, which wants more room made for passengers.

Tourism Industry Council Tasmania chief executive Luke Martin said yesterday's announcement failed to deal with the capacity issues during busy months.

He had supported the idea of freight-only ships to relieve pressure on deck space.

"That's the problem, passengers are competing for deck space with semi-trailers and B-double trucks," Mr Martin said.

Freight Logistics Council chairman Steve Henty said ruling out any expansion of TT- Line's freight business would reassure private freight movers Toll Shipping and SeaRoad, which have plans to buy new ships.

"They can go forward with their plans now," Mr Henty said.

Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association chief executive Jan Davis was concerned taking the ships out of service while they are upgraded will disrupt services.

"We want the detail. Neither of these ships is the Tardis, you know," Ms Davis said.

However, Mr Hidding promised farmers "a seamless provision of freight services to cover the period that Spirit I and II come offline".

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