“WestPac Express” will deliver a Forward Arming and Refuelling Point (FARP) for use in the assistance operations. A FARP is a temporary facility that allows aircraft to conduct continuous operations without having to return to an established airport to obtain fuel. The vessel will also transport additional supplies, communications equipment and personnel to be used in the relief operations.
Austal’s 101 metre “WestPac Express”, which has operated as a high speed theatre support vessel with the Okinawa based Third Marine Expeditionary Force (III MEF) of the United States Marine Corps for over 10 years, is currently deployed to mainland Japan to provide support for foreign humanitarian assistance operations following the devastating March 11, 2011 earthquake.
The involvement of “WestPac Express” in the Japanese relief efforts is the latest demonstration of large high speed aluminium catamarans assisting with humanitarian support. Recently, Austal-built vessels “Osman Gazi”, “Orhan Gazi” and “Maria Dolores” were all deployed to assist in the evacuation of foreign citizens from Libya, while in early 2010, Austal-built 113m high speed catamarans, “Huakai” and “Alakai” assisted in Haitian relief efforts.
“Osman Gazi” and “Orhan Gazi” made multiple journeys between the Libyan city of Benghazi and Turkey, evacuating thousands of Turkish citizens. The two 88m aluminium catamarans were delivered to Turkish operator, Istanbul Deniz Otobusleri (IDO) in mid 2007, where they have since been in operation across the Marmara Sea between Yenikapi and Bursa.
“Maria Dolores”, operated by Virtu Ferries, also made several rescue voyages between Tripoli, the capitol of Libya, and Malta. The 68m vehicle-passenger ferry has the capacity to carry up to 600 passengers and 65 cars at a time, and is capable of speeds of approximately 35 knots.
Austal Chief Executive Officer, Andrew Bellamy, commented that both the Japanese and Libyan relief operations have demonstrated the capability of fast craft in enabling a rapid response for humanitarian assistance efforts.