Rauma Marine Constructions has finally been given the go-ahead by Australian ferry operator TT-Line to build two LNG dual-fuelled ropaxes.

The orders end the uncertainty surrounding the vessels that TT-Line has been trying to build since 2018.

The Finnish yard revealed that work will begin on the two 48,000-gt, 1,800-passenger ferries in the spring of 2022. The first vessel will be delivered in late 2023 and the second in late 2024.

The vessels, which will replace TT-Line’s existing pair of 1998-built ferries, are designed to operate in the challenging conditions of the Bass Strait between mainland Australia and the island of Tasmania.

TT-Line chief executive Bernard Dwyer said vessels will also make extensive use of "the expertise of Tasmanian companies".

Although neither company disclosed the value of the contract, Rauma described it as a positive signal for its financial outlook for 2021 as it increased its orderbook to about €1.6bn ($1.9bn) and increased the number of ferry projects at the shipyard to four.

In addition, it is building four multipurpose corvettes for the Finnish Defence Forces.

"The agreement with TT-Line is an excellent continuation of Rauma’s growth story and last year’s good result. We will continue on our set growth path to build car and passenger ferries, which also means stable growth in the shipbuilding industry in Finland," said Rauma chief executive Jyrki Heinimaa.

"Last year, we strengthened our personnel by almost 50%, meaning our organisation is more than ready for a new 3,500-person-year project."

Rauma described itself as having an "excellent financial result" for 2020 despite the pandemic: its net sales more than quintupled from €38.1m in the previous year to €220.1m.

Operating profit increased from €1.9m to €6.7m.

“After the challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic at the beginning of the year, production work has resumed to normal capacity,” Rauma said.

The yard shut down production briefly in February after a cluster of Covid-19 infections was revealed among its workers.

Long delays

The signing of the contracts ends a long period of uncertainty for TT-Line over where and when the two ropaxes would be built.

The ferry operator, which is owned by the Tasmanian government, first placed orders for the pair at Flensburger Schiffbau-Gesellschaft.

The German shipbuilder’s financial problems and production delays forced TT-Line to cancel the order in March 2020, when it signed a memorandum of understanding with Rauma.

Politics intervened before the order could be confirmed. The orders were put on hold as local politicians pressured the Tasmanian government to investigate the possibility of building the ships at an Australian shipyard.

A detailed report issued one year later determined that that would be risky because no Australian shipyard had experience building large ropaxes.

Rauma revealed that negotiations resumed last month, initiated by the Tasmanian government.