Condor Liberation Photo: Andrew Cooke
Condor Liberation Photo: Andrew Cooke

On 26th December 2014 a new era in ferry travel to the Channel Isles arrived at the port of Poole in Dorset on her delivery voyage from the Philippines. Described as a ground breaking and technologically advanced craft, Austal’s Yard No. 270 was purchased by Condor Ferries in August 2014 but her keel was actually laid at Austal’s Henderson Yard in Jervoise Bay, near Fremantle, Western Australia on 27th November 2008. Based on the Auto Express 127, the 127m long and 2005 built Benchijigua Express operated by Fred. Olsen Express out of Los Cristianos, Tenerife, the Auto Express 102 was built speculatively and completed in December 2009. The vessel was widely reported as being constructed to maintain shipyard output during a lean period for the Henderson facility. Although resembling a trimaran, the Auto Express 102/127 designs are actually stabilised monohull craft. The 102m long and 26.80m beam craft has a draught of 4.20m and a gross tonnage of 6,307.

During sea trials in January/February 2011 Austal 270 exceeded all expectations with speeds in excess of 40 knots. The vessel’s creator, Austal, has been specialising in highspeed craft from the outset in 1988 with a vision to build high quality commercial vessels for the international market. By the company’s fifth anniversary, Austal had become the world’s leading manufacturer of 40 metre passenger catamarans and the dominant supplier to Asia. It was in Hong Kong as early as 1993, that Austal introduced gas turbine propulsion and the first two installations of their own motion control system. The success in Asia and the introduction of a range of sophisticated, large vehicle-carrying fast ferries were the catalyst for ongoing growth. Today, Austal remains a leading builder of fast ferries and can list some of the world’s leading highspeed ferry and shipping operators amongst its customer base such as Fred. Olsen S.A, Virtu Ferries, Conferry, Hellas Flying Dolphins, Nordic Ferry Services, Irish Ferries, L’Express des Iles and the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality.

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