Western Australian shipbuilder, Austal Ships Pty Ltd, is completing design work on what will be one of the fastest passenger vessels in the world - a 50 knot air-cushion catamaran.
"At that speed it will be cutting across the water at the equivalent of more than 80 km an hour," Deputy Premier Ian Taylor said today after a special briefing at Austal's construction yard.
Part of the design and testing program for the new vessel was financed through a $133,500 Federal Government grant managed by Western Australia's Department of State Development.
"The new catamaran is an extraordinary and exciting development and will do much to underline what is becoming Western Australia's pioneering role in high-technology ship building," Mr Taylor said.
He said the new vessel would be 38 metres long and able to ferry up to 334 passengers at a time - 68 of them in a luxury upper deck VIP lounge.
"Although it will look much like a conventional catamaran, there will be a 'skirt' between its twin hulls, where air can be pumped to give it lift," he said.
"In operation the air cushion will reduce the ferry's draft from 2 metres to 0.6 metres and so reduce water resistance to enable it to travel faster using no extra power."
Mr Taylor said the new vessels would be selling for between $US8 million and $US9 million each - compared with $US6 million to $US7 million for conventional ferry catamarans.
He said it was partly in anticipation of export orders for the new air-cushion catamaran that Austal had decided to invest $5 million on a new waterfront shipyard.
"But its first order will be a more conventional, although nonetheless impressive, 76 metre 'super ferry'," he said.
Mr Taylor said the super ferries - or Auto Expresses as they will be called - would be capable of carrying 400 passengers, 72 cars and 10 buses or trucks at a more 'sedate' 40 knots.
"Austal already has an international reputation for its 40 metre catamaran ferries and has now built more in this size range than any other shipbuilder in the world," he said.
Mr Taylor said 10 of the 40 metre ferries - worth $70 million - were currently on order from China, and two were scheduled to be launched this month.
He said innovation, technical competence and a willingness to develop an export market, had been the key to Austal success.
"In March last year the company was employing 95 people. Today the figure is up to 185 - an extraordinary record for any company," Mr Taylor said.