THE Port Authority of New South Wales has signed a $10-million contract for two new multipurpose firefighting vessels.

Australian shipbuilder Birdon is to build the vessels at its facility in Port Macquarie.

NSW minister for transport Andrew Constance said the vessels would replace two of the Port Authority’s existing firefighting tugs on Sydney Harbour and at Port Botany.

“It’s fantastic to have Birdon on board to build and deliver the purpose-built firefighting vessels right here in New South Wales,” Mr Constance said.

“This is a great investment in local jobs for Port Macquarie, with 40 Birdon staff and an additional 20 subcontractors to work on the vessels locally.”

Mr Constance said the new vessels were designed in consultation with operational staff.

“[They] will be faster, have improved manoeuvrability and have better access to shallow areas for firefighting operations and incident response,” he said.

“They will also be able to respond to pollution incidents, remove debris from waterways and tow other vessels that have gotten into trouble.”

Port Authority of NSW's old firefighting vessel Shirley Smith
One of the soon-to-be-retired firefighting tugs, Shirley Smith; Image: Ian Ackerman/DCN

Retiring the old tugs

Port Authority chief executive officer Captain Philip Holliday said the existing firefighting tugs, the Shirley Smith and Ted Noffs, have reached the end of their working life.

“Our existing tugs are much-loved and have served our community well over the past 40 years, but unfortunately they can’t go on forever,” Mr Holliday said.

“It’s time to plan for their retirement and build replacement vessels, that have firefighting capabilities and additional functionality so our crews can continue to support the safety needs of Sydney Harbour and Port Botany.”

Mr Holliday said the port authority would contact the relatives of Shirley Smith and Ted Noffs over the next 12 months to determine how best to mark the retirement of the existing vessels.

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Birdon chief executive officer Jamie Bruce said the company’s proposal was focused on using locally sourced materials, in addition to creating and sustaining skilled jobs in the Port Macquarie region.

“The award of the firefighting vessel contract to Birdon is a win for regional NSW. It is testament to the expertise of our engineering team and the capability of our tradespeople in Port Macquarie,” Mr Bruce said.

“Our team has been working closely with Port Authority of NSW to understand their requirements and develop new multipurpose vessels that will integrate with, and improve, the capability of their existing fleet.”

Member for Port Macquarie Leslie Williams said the project is a great investment for the local industry and will provide Birdon’s local staff the opportunity to upskill and undertake more training.

“The vessels will be built, from keel laying to fit out, at Birdon’s Port Macquarie shipyard and will provide a great opportunity for local tradies to secure work,” Mrs Williams said.

“Birdon has designed and delivered a range of multi-million-dollar ship builds, and has provided a vital boost to the local economy during the COVID-19 crisis over the past year.”

Birdon has begun work on the detailed design with fellow Australian-owned and NSW-based company Incat Crowther. The vessels are expected to be completed by early 2023.

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