Austal believes it can win overseas orders for the patrol boats it is making for the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service.
The first of eight Cape Class vessels was launched at the WA shipbuilder's Henderson shipyard yesterday for sea trials ahead of a handover in March.
Chief executive Andrew Bellamy said there had been considerable interest in both the patrol boats and warships Austal is building in Alabama for the US Navy from potential customers from the Middle East and Asia.
"There's an increasing need for maritime security," Mr Bellamy said. "I don't see any sense that governments have lost focus on that. I'd be looking to see us having something contracted in the next 12 to 18 months."
The construction phase of the $330 million contract ends in 2015. The Henderson facility became defence-focused when commercial shipbuilding was no longer viable.
"The sooner we can line something up beyond this program then obviously the better," Mr Bellamy said. Named Cape St George, the 58m aluminium monohull makes a clean break from the steel grey of its forerunners with a royal blue livery and red racing stripe similar to those sported by US Coast Guard vessels.
Customs maritime acquisitions branch national manager Ian Laverock said while contract negotiations, amendments and design reviews had sometimes been bruising, a high degree of trust had been forged with Austal.
"This project is emerging as one of the great success stories of major capital procurement for the Commonwealth," Mr Laverock said.
"It still remains on budget, within schedule and is poised to deliver a greatly enhanced capability for Australia's maritime border security."
Mr Bellamy said more than two-thirds of Austal's 305 suppliers for Cape St George were WA-based. "It's a great manufacturing story in tough times," he said.
Colin Ayres, director of project supplier Ayres Composite Panels, said the patrol boat program had enabled his company to keep employees on and make new investments."The last few years have been pretty rough in the marine industry," Mr Ayres said. "But the Cape Class project for us has stopped the rot. It's bought stability back to our business."
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