The Westpac Express fast ferry ship has been instrumental in changing the way the US Navy approaches sealift in the Western Pacific. It’s fast enough to substitute for airlift in many cases, and large enough to move a Marine battalion with its gear. Early trials went very well, and the innovative designs and performance of Australian shipbuilders Austal and Incat laid a foundation of manufacturing experience and customer comfort that led to the innovative GD/Austal trimaran design for the new Independence Class “Flight 0” Littoral Combat Ship, while spawning a major acquisition program in the Joint High-Speed Vessel (JHSV).
HSV Westpac Express isn’t a Navy-owned ship; technically, it’s a chartered vessel. In July 2005, we noted an 18-month extension to its charter. In 2006, that service period was extended still further via a new charter, lasting up to 5 years. During that charter’s period, a bankruptcy in Hawaii created an opportunity to buy the Austal-built catamaran Superferry MV Huakai, which will replace Westpac Express in the Pacific. Until then, the USMC needs one more contract extension.
Contracts & Key Events
Originally described as a Theatre Support Vessel (TSV), the 101 meter, 970t deadweight MV WestPac Express is now more commonly referred to as a High Speed Connector (HSC), and was first chartered to the III MEF in July 2001 for a proof of concept period. That was the first time the US military had contracted a commercial vessel of this type for military support. The charter was so successful that after competitive tenders, Military Sealift Command signed a 3 year charter in January 2002 that was subsequently extended to February 2007. A follow-on charter extended its service to September 2011, and what appears to be its last charter could extend her service to 2016.
The ship will continue to transport the Marine Corps’ Okinawa-based III Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) and their equipment to other countries in the Western Pacific in support of USMC operations, training and exercises. It has seating for up to 900 Marines on the personnel deck, 2,490 m2 cargo space on the cargo deck that can fit 152 HMMWV’s or take on 12 tracked AAVP and 20 wheeled LAV APCs, and a 1,100 nautical mile range at 36 knots.
Oct 3/14: Still extending. Austal Hull 130 Chartering LLC in Mobile, AL receives a $14.7 million firm-fixed-price contract for the charter of “a U.S.-flagged passenger/cargo vessel… [to] support the U.S. Marine Corps Third Marine Expeditionary Force in the Far East. In other words, Westpac Express. $14.7 million in US Navy working capital budgets are committed immediately for 2015. This contract includes a pair of 2-month option periods and a FAR 52.217-8 option period, which could bring the contract to $29.9 million.
Work will be performed in the Far East, and under the new contract, the initial charter period has been extended for 10 months, to August 2015. If all 3 options are exercised, the contract would end in May 2016. Note that the repurposed Hawaii Superferry USNS Guam was meant to replace Westpac Express in the Pacific theater some time in FY 2015, but there are some planned modifications underway to the former Hawaii Superferry Huakai. The options appear to be a safeguard.
This contract was competitively procured via the FBO.gov and more than 50 companies were solicited, but just 1 offer was received by US Military Sealift Command in Washington, DC (N00033-15-C-5303). See also Austal, “US Navy Extends Charter of High Speed Vessel”.
July 1/13: Another extension. Austal announces that their charter has been extended again, until February 2014. They are claiming “technical availability levels exceeding 99%” since they signed the initial contract with the US Marines.
Jan 14/13: Extension. Austal Hull 130 Chartering, LLC in Mobile, AL receives a $7 million firm, fixed-price contract modification, exercising a 6-month option period for “the worldwide charter of one U.S.-flagged passenger/cargo ferry [to] support the Marine Corps, Third Marine Expeditionary Force… out of Okinawa, Japan.
There has probably been an unannounced 6-month extension before this, from August 2012 – January 2013. All contract funds are committed immediately, and work is expected to be complete by August 2013. US Military Sealift Command in Washington, DC manages the contract (N00033-12-C-5504).
Dec 21/11: Bridging charter. Well, that was fast. Austal Hull 130 Chartering LLC in Mobile, AL receives an $8.2 million fixed-price contract for the worldwide charter of “one U.S.-flagged passenger/cargo ferry [to] support the Marine Corps Third Marine Expeditionary Force.” In other words, HSV Westpac Express. This contract runs to August 2012, by which point Huakai could be ready; but it includes 3 more 6-month option periods, which could raise the contract to $30.3 million and extend the contract to January 2014. Initial contract funds will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/12.
This contract was competitively procured via Navy Electronic Commerce Online and FBO.gov, with 3 offers received by US Military Sealift Command in Washington, DC (N00033-12-C-5504).
Dec 19/11: Superferries. The Defense Authorization Act of 2012, which will soon become law, includes funds to buy both Hawaii Superferries from US MARAD for $35 million, and transfer them to Maritime Sealift Command.
Queries to MSCFE reveal that the larger Huakai ferry will replace the HSV Westpac Express, supporting CG III Marine Expeditionary Force between Okinawa, mainland Japan and Korea, with occasional runs to the Philippines and Thailand. It won’t be ready until the end of FY 2012 at least, which means III MEF will need another charter period. Read “Hawaii Superferry’s Bankruptcy = US Navy Opportunity” for full coverage.
May 15/06: New base contract. In 2005, MSC had sought competitive tenders for a new charter of up to 55 months. Austal Hull 130 Chartering LLC in Mobile, AL received a $13.4 million firm-fixed-priced, reimbursables contract to charter Westpac Express for the 2nd half of FY 2007, with options through FY 2011 via 4 more 1-year options. All of them were exercised, bringing the total award amounts near the $88.7 million ($55.3 million plus an estimated $33.4 million for fuel and reimbursables) maximum.
The contract began in February 2007; the base will run until September 2007, but the contract ran to September 2011 with all options exercised. The initial $13.4 million used FY 2007 funds.
This contract was competitively procured, with 100 proposals solicited and 8 offers received by the U.S. Navy’s Military Sealift Command in Washington, DC (N00033-06-C-3308). See also Austal release.
* Austal – Westpac Express.
* DID FOCUS – The USA’s JHSV Fast Catamaran Ships. The ship design that evolved out of experience with Westpac Express and some Incat HSVs. Won by Austal.
* DID – Hawaii Superferry’s Bankruptcy = US Navy Opportunity. They were also Austal ships, and will become USNS Guam and USNS Puerto Rico.