The West

Austal turns around loss
The USS Independence LCS built by Austal for the US Navy.

A $100 million ferry Austal built on spec three years ago may be offered for charter in Europe next year if the vessel cannot be sold before then.

The WA shipbuilder has been unable to find a buyer for the Next Generation 102m trimaran it built during the global financial crisis in expectation of a rebound in demand.

But with European economies mired in recession, the high-speed vehicle-passenger ferry remains docked more than two years after completion. It sits at Austal's Henderson shipyard, where commercial vessels are no longer built.

"We continue to look for a client for it but it's a very difficult marketplace in Europe," Austal chief executive Andrew Bellamy said.

Mr Bellamy said the chartering option would eventually come into play. "That's the most likely outcome if we can't find a buyer," he said. "The most likely timing for that is, if we can't secure a sale during this financial year, we'd look to charter the boat to a commercial operator for the European summer next year."

He declined to detail the capital and maintenance cost of the trimaran to Austal.

At the time of its commissioning, the company said building the ferry prevented the sacking of about 400 workers when orders had dried up.

While the shipyard went on to make more ferries to order for international customers, it became uneconomic to continue that business, mainly because of the high Australian dollar.

Henderson is now focused on building Customs patrol boats.

However, Austal has resumed making ferries at a shipyard it bought in the Philippines last year.

Austal yesterday reported a 50 per cent fall in net operating profit to $11 million after turning around a first-half loss caused by teething problems with a US Navy warship and slack business in WA.

The company has an order book worth $2.57 billion.

The West Australian

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