US Navy vessels hesitant to berth

The captains of the USNS Charles Drew and USNS Richard E. Byrd are too “uncomfortable” to dock at the port (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Diana Quinlan/Released). TWO US Navy ships are refusing to dock at Port of Townsville because the channel is too narrow, sparking concerns for the future of the tourism and defence gateway.

The Bulletin understands the captains of the USNS Charles Drew and USNS Richard E. Byrd are too “uncomfortable” to dock at the port, with the Richard E. Byrd now anchored off Magnetic Island.

The supply logistics vessels entered the port earlier this month.

SeaLink has been ferrying passengers back and forth every two hours since Friday.

The situation comes a month after the State Government committed $75 million to the widening of the channel, which is expected to be completed by 2022.

Port chief executive officer Ranee Crosby said the port was holding berth applications for the Richard E. Byrd , but they had recently been cancelled.

“Feedback we received was that the width of the channel leading into the … port was considered very narrow and the captain preferred to anchor the ship and use tender equipment,” she said.

“Port of Townsville is currently in the final stages of environmental approval processes for the Port Expansion Project, which importantly includes channel widening to ensure the safe passage of larger ships – not only defence vessels, but commercial and cruise also.”

Ms Crosby said the State Government had sought matched federal funding to kickstart the project.

SeaLink general manager Chris Briggs said both vessels brought valuable dollars into the city.

“The charter work has been good for us, the ships have spent money in Townsville while exploring what we have to offer,” he said.

“I’m supportive of the channel widening project but with the understanding that the dredge spoil is disposed of properly.”

Northern Australia Minister Senator Matt Canavan said he was aware of the proposed widening.“We established the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility to fund projects like this,” he said.“We have yet to receive a proposal from the Queensland Government. I would welcome an application from the Queensland Government.”North Queensland Senator Ian Macdonald said the port was a state government-owned asset.“We said in the City Deal project that we would help look at initiative financing to capture the wider economic benefits of the port,” he said. “They would be eligible to apply for NAIF (funding).”Senator Macdonald said the port made “good profits” each year.“But unfortunately they’re snaffled up by the State Government and not reinvested,” he said.“I don’t think the Federal Government should be bailing out a profitable state government asset.”A spokesman for the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development said the regulation and operation of ports, including the maintenance of shipping channels, was a matter for state and territory governments.“The Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development does not provide funding for these purposes,” he said.SeaLink will continue to ferry passengers until Friday.The Department of Defence did not provide comment.