Finnish shipbuilder Rauma Marine Constructions (RMC) has commenced the construction of the first of two Ro-Pax car and passenger ferries for Australia-based shipping firm Spirit of Tasmania.

To mark the event, a traditional steel-cutting ceremony was held for the Spirit of Tasmania IV in Rauma, Finland.

These two ferries will sail on an open sea course between mainland Australia and the island of Tasmania.

RMC CEO and president Jyrki Heinimaa said: “Although the actual construction of the first ferry started today, RMC and Spirit of Tasmania already have a long history. The pandemic, among other things, disrupted our plans, but the agreement for the vessels was re-signed in 2021. We are particularly glad that our joint journey, which has lasted more than a decade, finally reached this important milestone. Therefore, I would like to thank Spirit of Tasmania for trusting our local expertise in shipbuilding.”

Once delivered, these ferries will be the southernmost ships to sail using liquefied natural gas (LNG).

Furthermore, the ships will feature a dual-fuel solution that will enable them to utilise other green fuels.

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The newbuilds will provide services on an ‘extremely challenging’ route across the Bass Strait between Geelong, Victoria, and Devonport, Tasmania.

According to the shipbuilding company, the vessels will be specifically developed for this course.

With a gross tonnage of approximately 48,000 metric tonnes, the ferries will be able to accommodate 1,800 passengers each.

They will replace similar Finnish-built sister vessels from the 1990s.

While the first ship is expected to be finished in late 2023, the second newbuild will be ready in late 2024.

Spirit of Tasmania CEO and managing director Bernard Dwyer said: “This is a significant moment for Tasmania and for the Tasmanian economy. When completed, the vessel’s arrival in late 2023 will mark the start of a new era for passenger travel and freight transport across Bass Strait.

“While the new ships will be a similar design to the current Spirit of Tasmania vessels, they will feature substantially larger capacity for passengers, passenger vehicles and freight.”

Last August, RMC delivered the LNG-powered ferry Aurora Botnia for Wasaline.