BASS Island Line’s small ro-ro/landing craft John Duigan undertook an off-schedule sailing from Devonport to Grassy over the weekend to begin a Tasmanian Government-funded program of extra sailings to drought-hit King Island.

The vessel departs Devonport again today on its regular weekly sailing but the government is underwriting a second weekly sailing between Grassy and Devonport, to allow for increased supply and resources to be delivered and in turn move livestock removed off the island.

The program will run until 19 May 2024, with a maximum of eight second sailings to be supported. Currently the additional northbound voyages are listed for 6 April, 13, April, 20 April, 27 April, 4 May and 11 May, with return departures the following day.

Both King Island and Flinders Island have been hit by drought conditions this year, with the former reporting its lowest rainfall since the 1970s. TasFarmers said without urgent action now to allow producers to destock land and bring in supplementary feed, the island’s producers of livestock are facing a significant animal welfare challenge over the coming months.

The government late last month made $20,000 hardship grants available to island farmers and later extended Rural Relief Fund grants statewide, after parts of Tasmania experienced the lowest February rainfall on record and a long dry summer.

Lobbying for the extra shipping capacity TasFarmers CEO Nathan Calman said the difference between producers on King Island and other drought affect regions of Tasmania was that they are hamstrung in taking animals off the island as a result of insufficient shipping services.

“This is not the result of the Bass Island Line vessel operating at capacity, but rather the unwillingness of [BIL owner] TasPorts to schedule extra sailings.

“Over the next 50 days, the government-operated vessel will only sail 15 times. As a taxpayer-funded vessel, we call on the Tasmanian Government to step in and take action now to direct its GBE TasPorts to at least double, if not triple the number of sailings currently scheduled.

“We would like to see the two TasPorts Shareholding Ministers, Deputy Premier Michael Ferguson, the Minister for infrastructure and treasurer, and Felix Ellis, the Minster for Resources, take an active role and facilitate a solution to what has been an ongoing issue,” he said.

King Island currently produces a significant 25% of the Tasmanian beef herd.

”When King Island last experienced a drought like this, producers had an on-island abattoir and access to more regular shipping services to both Tasmania and Victoria,´ Mr Calman said.

“As these options are no longer available, the government must act now to support producers – not to provide a handout, just to provide a service that the existing taxpayer-owned boat already has the capacity to deliver.”