Written by Kerryn Caulfield, Executive Director, Composites Australia Inc.
As the primary deepwater port located between Perth (with its port in Fremantle) and Port Hedland, Geraldton Port serves the Mid-West region of Western Australia and is a significant hub for the export of minerals, grain and other commodities. Over time, with land gradually reclaimed, the Port has witnessed expansive growth and infrastructure enhancements, aimed at magnifying its capacity to cater to increased vessel demands including tourism.
The decision to relocate a manufacturing facility is never taken lightly. For Dongara Marine, this shift from Port Denison to Geraldton earlier this year was a strategic move driven by both need and foresight. Rohan Warr, Managing Director of Dongara Marine, emphasized the advantages of the relocation, a mere 50-minute drive up the Brand Highway. “Our newly commissioned waterfront shipyard has more overall space including the ability to hold larger vessels, plus direct access to a boat lift for launching ensuring rapid deployment and efficient sea trials. This provides us with the capacity to build more vessels more efficiently. Moreover, we’re able to offer an all-encompassing range of services under one roof – from vessel maintenance to meticulous refits and repairs.”
The Geraldton facility, enveloping an impressive 9900m² within the Fishing Boat Harbour precinct, enables concurrent construction and intensive vessel repairs, optimizing both space and time.
Dongara Marine’s portfolio of professional working boats encompasses a range tailored for specific industries. Marine Rescue boats are built for speed, agility and stability, critical for emergency response. Crayfishing boats combine efficiency and durability, catering directly to the rock lobster fishing sector. Fisheries vessels reflect the need to ensure the integrity of fishing activity and develop a deeper understanding of the ecosystems. Meanwhile, pilot boats focus on facilitating safe harbour navigation, and police boats are designed to enforce maritime laws effectively.
“Recognising that each vessel is fundamentally a workspace, we design and build with more than just functionality in mind. Safety is first, which is why our pilot boats, for example, have self-righting capabilities, essential for protecting the crew in turbulent sea conditions. We’ve also integrated design features such as the suspension mount between the hull and deck to drastically cut down on noise and vibration. After all, a quieter environment doesn’t just mean enhanced comfort; it directly contributes to operational efficiency,” advised Rohan.
Many of the vessels are built with an aluminium hull and supplemented with fully infused composite decks and wheelhouses. One distinctive design aspect is the ‘resilient’ mounting of the deck onto the hull.
As facilitators of imports and exports, including mining exports, the ports of Western Australia (WA) are vital economic and strategic assets for both the state and country. A critical factor for ensuring their continuous and safe operation is the ability to transfer Marine Pilots to and from visiting ships. Getting them to and from those ships typically involves using a specialised pilot boat.
In the latest example of its contribution to this vital activity, Dongara Marine has been contracted to construct two new pilot boats for the Port of Fremantle. These will be essential for the transportation of the port’s Marine Pilots – highly experienced mariners with extensive local knowledge who safely guide ships in and out of port.
Announcing the contract earlier this year, Western Australia’s (then) Ports Minister Rita Saffioti said “Without fast, efficient, reliable and safe pilot vessels, our ports can’t operate. These new assets will assist Fremantle Ports in providing the safest and most efficient service to ship owners, operators and the crew and pilots who board them every day and night of the year.”
The acquisition of these new pilot boats will benefit port users by improving safety, security and adding capacity to assist in facilitating efficient ship movements. A key feature of their design and construction is a completely removeable wheelhouse. Manufactured in house by Dongara Marine using resin-infusion technology, this is the workplace for the crew and up to eight Marine Pilots as they transit between harbour and ships at sea.
Purpose-designed to be strong, stiff, lightweight and resiliently mounted to the aluminium hull, the wheelhouse can be simply and easily removed to provide access to all major machinery in the vessel, as may be required for major engine maintenance or replacement.
This feature enables machinery to be located for optimum weight distribution and thus optimal speed and fuel economy without compromising the ability to undertake major maintenance with minimal disruption to vessel availability. This is critical given ports operate 24/7, 365 days per year.
The resin infused composite wheelhouse also reduces overall vessel weight for better stability and fuel economy, is durable and protected against corrosion, provides thermal and sound insulation for improved comfort for personnel, and enables a very high standard of internal finish.
Construction of the two vessels is well underway in the new facility, with the 19.2 metre long aluminium hulls and the composite wheelhouses all structurally complete. This means that work is now focussed on fitting all the machinery, equipment, and internals to the vessels as well as painting prior to launch. The first vessel is due for completion in the middle of 2024, with the second following before the end of the year.
Dongara Marine currently employs over 60 staff. The company expects to complete a total of 11 new vessels and two major refits this financial year