New ferries provide boost to regional economy

The Whanganui boat builder taken on to build Fullers two new ferries will hire 20 extra staff to complete the $16 million job.

Fullers didn’t bother to put out a tender for the job, after being impressed with Q-West’s workmanship on Te Kotoku, launched September last year.

Fullers chief executive Doug Hudson says the company thought it was important the vessels were constructed locally, to boost the regional economy.

“As a business, we prefer to invest here and help provide jobs. Another reason is that if a boat is built in New Zealand, it’s easier to source components for repairs.”

Q-West managing director Myles Fothergill, who is also president of the NZ Marine Industry Association, says more staff will be taken on to manage the extra workload.

“We will be employing 20 additional staff to work on the construction of the two vessels along with our core team who managed the Te Kotuku … It’s fantastic to have such a high-calibre company recognising local capability and buying New Zealand made.”

The ferry company, owned by Scottish businessman Sir Brian Souter, will debt fund about half the $16 million investment.

The two 34-metre, 360-passenger ferries will emulate Te Kotoku and replace ‘overflow vessel’ Jet Raider and 28-year old Quickcat. The first boat will be launched in October next year and the other in April 2017.

“What it means is we’ll be standardising the class of the vessels on the Waiheke route to ensure whatever vessel a passenger gets on, it’s going to have the same look and feel with the same trip time,” Mr Hudson says.

The new ferries will travel at 26 knots, faster than the 650-seat Quickcat’s 23, which means the company can add another nine services return daily.  

The fresh boats should also go some way toward improving Fullers’ track record of breakdowns and delays, which have frustrated commuters. 

Fullers' monopoly grip on the Waiheke route was shaken after Explore Group – which is also adding to its yellow fleet – arrived on the scene a year ago. Sealink also increased its services to the island.

Mr Hudson says Fullers is adapting to market conditions that have changed hugely in the past 12 months.

“The competition didn’t prompt this new investment but it’s certainly a factor in terms of how we respond. We started remodelling our Waiheke service two years ago, weighing up the costs of refurbishing Quickcat over buying new boats.”

Waiheke’s popularity growing
There are about 1000 daily commuters from Waiheke and tourism numbers to the island are growing.

Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED) forecasts Auckland tourism economy to reach $7.23 billion by 2021, and expects the private sector to contribute about $2.3 billion towards this growth. 

ATEED tourism manager Jason Hill says Waiheke is one of the region’s top drawcards and he expects the coming summer to be a record-breaking season for visitor numbers.

Souter Investments holds Fullers through the InMotion Group, a new entity set up to also encompass Souter’s transport assets of 360 Discovery, Howick & Eastern buses, ManaBus.com, Mana Coach Services, Nakedbus.com and Reesby Buses.

An initial public offer of the company was signalled earlier this year. Mr Hudson says this is still on the cards, although timing has not been decided.

In the year to March the group reported a net profit of $7.6 million, down 22% from $9.7 million a year earlier.

Ticket revenue and transport subsidy income was up 4% to $97.5 million. At balance date the companies had total assets of $172 million and debt of $67.3 million.

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