AUSTRALIA’S navy chief has warned the country’s largest warship will not be able to dock in Cairns without further dredging of Trinity Inlet.
Vice Admiral Tim Barrett told a recent Senate Estimates hearing that there were increasing opportunities for the navy in a multi-billion dollar partnership with the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), announced in May.
The partnership, which will result in thousands of personnel from Singapore being trained in Australia, will largely be carried out on land but Vice Adm Barrett said there were opportunities for bases such as HMAS Cairns to become involved.
In the hearing Senator Ian MacDonald asked the navy chief whether the ADF was working with the Queensland Government in trying to enable Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) ships – which are 230m long and weigh 27,500 tonnes – to visit HMAS Cairns.
“The view at the moment is that Cairns would be an area where the LHD may call but, at this stage, I have not indicated it is a port where the LHD will be permanently based, in part because of the nature of its operations to get in and out of Cairns itself,” Vice Adm Barrett said.
“It requires not just dredging the channel but consistency in how often it is dredged to be able to get the necessary draft.”
Advance Cairns chairman Trent Twomey said HMAS Cairns’ involvement in the Singaporean partnership would boost both jobs and investment in Far North Queensland.
He said it was important the planned expansion of the Cairns navy base and the city’s port infrastructure were fast-tracked.
“From the Chief of Navy’s comments it’s clear the LHDs couldn’t come through Cairns because the port is yet to be expanded,” Mr Twomey said.
“That would mean we could not take advantage of the potential in the Australian-Singaporean naval linkages without increased dredging.”
In June Ports North announced it was working on an environmental impact statement (EIS) for a revised dredging program that would allow cruise ships up to 300m long to dock at the city’s port.
A Ports North spokeswoman said the EIS involved “significant and detailed technical work” which was being led by Ports North’s engineering team and Flanagan Consulting Group.
“The team is working with both federal and state government agencies who are involved in assessing the project,” she said.
“We expect we will be able to provide a further update on the project in the near future.”