If implemented, local shipyards would be able to handle much larger vessels including superyachts

A major multimillion-dollar investment is in prospect for the Queensland port of Cairns which, if implemented, could see local shipyard capacity enhanced and new common-user facilities developed. The proposals are contained in a study called the Cairns Marine Precinct (CMP) Growth Strategy.

Along with meeting naval and commercial shipping needs, superyachts are also integral to the plan. It is envisaged that some A$850m could be invested in the port, enabling a major dredging programme that would allow the handling of larger ships; upgrades to the capacity of the three main shipyards; and enhancements to local port facilities to support the use of Cairns as a key Australian navy base, to support tourist craft requirements, and to allow for larger cruise ships.

A study by GHD consultancy into the future of the port was commissioned by the Queensland government through the Department of State Development, Manufacturing, Infrastructure and Planning (DSDMIP).

This CMP Growth Strategy project was designed to inform the government and the private sector of priority developments (both infrastructure and non-infrastructure) within the CMP to support a long-term, sustainable marine industry. Additionally, the strategy aims to harmonise the interests of stakeholders including, but not limited to, defence, commercial maritime, the Superyacht Group, Great Barrier Reef and tourism operators.

The three main shipyards in Cairns – BSE Cairns Slipway, Norship Marine and Tropical Reef Shipyard – received A$24m to upgrade their facilities following a pre-election pledge. BSE Cairns Slipway used its A$8m to invest in a 1,120-tonne travel lift, currently the largest in the world, which will become operational in the middle of May this year. This new travel lift will be sited over the company’s current 60m dry dock.

Of the three shipyards, BSE Cairns Slipway and Norship Marine have undertaken a sizeable amount of work on yachts, along with commercial and naval work, whereas Tropical Reef Shipyard focuses completely on naval and commercial.

Among the key needs identified for upgraded facilities was a 13% increase in dry-dock demand over the next five years, with the anticipated rise in the average size of vessel using the CMP from 60m (164ft) to 140m-150m (460ft-492ft), and a rise in the number of homeported superyachts in Cairns.

Also, the number of superyachts visiting Cairns in recent years has increased and it has been assessed that they spent some 2,850 days in the local region. In 2016, 10 superyachts spent a total of 474 days, split between BSE Cairns Slipway and Norship Marine Slipways.

There are some 12 superyachts homebased in Cairns, and the number of visiting superyachts averages 39 but is likely to grow. With the launch of the Queensland Superyacht Strategy last year, it is aiming to significantly increase the state’s superyacht sector and Cairns is crucial to fulfilling this.

Depending on how the rules relating to visiting superyachts change, the number of visiting yachts could increase considerably. The study suggests that if there is no change to the Australian Coastal Act, the rise in visiting superyachts could be 3-5%, whereas an easing of the Australian Coastal Act could lead to a 10-15% increase. If all restrictions were removed, a jump of 25-30% in superyacht visits is forecast.

The main proposed developments to increase capacity at the CMP are the possible acquisition of a A$100m common-user 3,000-tonne synchrolift facility, increasing the capacity of the Tropical Reef slipway up to 135m (443ft), and the new BSE Cairns Slipway 1,120-tonne travel lift which is currently being installed.

Marlin Marina in Cairns is a long-established facility used by superyachts. It offers 12 superyacht berths and the largest such craft that it has accommodated is in excess of 90m.