Irish Continental's new ferry to continue US Marine role in Asia
A HIGH-SPEED vessel being acquired by Irish Continental is to continue its role in transporting US troops and equipment in Asia.
The ship, Westpac Express, has been used for years by a US Marine force based in Japan as a rapid reaction vessel in both military training exercises and humanitarian relief.
Irish Continental, whose passenger ships operate under the Irish Ferries name, announced last week that it had acquired the catamaran vessel for $13.2m (€11.6m) from a US-based corporation.
The Irish company said that under the terms of the purchase agreement, the ship will be handed over to it in late May.
It added that upon delivery, the Westpac Express will be chartered to US-based company Sealift for a firm period of four months, with four further one-year option periods, and a final seven month option.
The US Navy began using the Westpac Express in 2001, the same year it was constructed in Tasmania.
It was assigned to the III Marine Expeditionary Force in the Far East for trials, with a view to using the ship as a replacement for air transport in specific cases.
It was the first time the US military had contracted a commercial vessel such as this for support purposes.
The vessel can transport a full battalion of almost 1,000 Marines, as well as heavy equipment, and travel at a speed of up to 36 knots and travel up to 1,100 nautical miles (2,037km).
The ship has been used by the Marines in military exercises in Asia, as well as for humanitarian relief efforts.
It was used for such activities following the devastating 2011 Japan earthquake and subsequent tsunami, as well as the 2005 tsunami in Thailand.
Sealift, the US firm that will charter the vessel in May from Irish Continental, is one of the largest ocean transportation contractors for US government food aid cargos.
Earlier this month, it was awarded a long-term $123m contract by the US Navy to provide support to the Marine Expeditionary Force in the Far East.
In January, Sealift won a $71m contract from the US Navy to transport ammunition to units based around the world.
Both Sealift and Irish Continental declined to comment on the use of the Westpac Express.
Irish Continental is headed by chief executive Eamonn Rothwell, who also owns about 15pc of the ferry firm. The company generated revenue last year of €320m, and an operating profit of €57.2m.
It benefited from reduced fuel costs, stronger sterling and increased traffic across the Irish Sea. The company operates passenger vessels as well as freight activities.