New arrivals to Weipa this year are still on foot as they wait for their vehicles to arrive on the Sea Swift barge.
School teachers, child care workers and hospital staff say they are desperate for their cars and can’t get an answer on when they will arrive.
Local businessman Greg Parr said he purchased a boat in the middle of January and still has no idea when it will get to Weipa.
“They can’t give me a date. Meanwhile, it’s sitting in the yard getting rained on, probably growing mould as well,” he said.
“It’s just pathetic.”
Mr Parr said he had been using Sea Swift since they first starting doing business in Weipa and claimed that service was the worst it had ever been.
“I’m hearing they’ve got 150 cars, boats and trailers in Cairns waiting to come to Weipa,” he said.
“Why don’t they put on an extra barge in the wet season to cope with the increased demand.
“We get a wet season every year and the road is always closed to trucks.”
Both of Weipa’s car rental companies are also waiting on new vehicles to arrive and demand for hire cars is high due to the new arrivals in town unable to drive their own vehicles that are sitting in Cairns.
Sea Swift operations general manager Peter Domenighini said the shipping company deemed vehicles as non-essential freight.
“Due to the remote nature of Far North Queensland, the only realistic and reliable transportation mode during the annual wet season is shipping,” he said.
“During the wet season, Sea Swift prioritises essential freight such as food, fuel, medicine, and business supplies to ensure ongoing access to essential goods for the remote communities we service.
“Private vehicles and recreational vessels do not fall under our essential goods category during this period, and we communicate this clearly to our customers on an annual basis and upon booking their freight.”
Mr Domenighini said Sea Swift had sent an extra barge to help clear the backlog and had plans for another extra barge to depart Cairns on March 10, but did not say if that would ensure all residents received their boats and vehicles.
Mr Parr said since Sea Swift bought out the only competition, Toll Marine, customers had suffered in Weipa.
“The ACCC has no spine and should never allowed the takeover to happen,” he said.
“The remote customers are the ones that suffer the most.”
Mr Domenighini responded by saying that since its acquisition of Toll in 2016, Sea Swift had increased its services to Cape York communities, with two services per week now arriving in Weipa every Monday and Friday.
However, Weipa received two, sometimes three barges per week when Sea Swift and Toll were working in competition.
“Despite the need to prioritise essential freight, we would like to reassure Cape York residents that Sea Swift is taking proactive steps to reduce any delays in the delivery of individual, non-essential freight,” Mr Domenighini said on Friday.
“The construction of a new vessel – the MV Newcastle Bay II – is due for completion later this year and will increase capacity by 50 per cent, which is a major positive for our Cape York and Torres Strait customers.
“We do apologise to our customers for any recent inconvenience experienced in the delivery of non-essential cargo.
“As always, the team at Sea Swift is committed to moving our customers’ freight in a timely and safe manner.
“Sea Swift are proud to provide vital services and support for communities across our region, and we look forward to serving these communities long into the future.”
This article appeared in Cape York Weekly, 1 March 2021.