Sunday 1 June 2014
Publication: The Australian
Journalist: Lisa Allen
CASHED-up transport and tourism group SeaLink wants to expand its operations by winning more government work as well as opening up remote areas such as the Tiwi Islands off Darwin.
“We have $30 million to spend,” said SeaLink chief executive Jeff Ellison, who is also intent on picking up more tourism assets.
“We have a very strong balance sheet, we have low debt, we are positioning ourselves so we can grow through acquisition. We have the funds available (and) traditionally we have acquired assets through operating profits and cashflow.” SeaLink raised $16.5m via a listing last year after bolstering its assets with the 2011 purchase of Captain Cook Cruises’ Sydney Harbour fleet as well as the Murray Princess paddlewheeler on the Murray.
The Adelaide-based company operates 25 vessels in South Australia, NSW, Queensland and the Northern Territory as well as a fleet of coaches, and employs more than 650 staff. It recently won a three-year contract with Sydney Ferries to provide services to Parramatta and Sydney’s inner harbour and is hoping to win another government tender to supply high-speed ferry services from Circular Quay to suburban Manly that will soon be up for tender.
If SeaLink wins the Manly ferry contract, it will buy more ferries, which the company has built in Tasmania with a 26-week turnaround.
“We are looking for companies where we can see opportunities to grow them and use our expertise, but most importantly they (must be) companies that go to a destination where we can sell and package up (tourism products) both locally and internationally,” Mr Ellison said.
SeaLink believes the Tiwi Islands will become a popular tourist destination because of the art, wildlife, waterfalls and fishing there.
“It’s both up-market as well as adventure tourism. We operate three days a week to the Tiwi Islands. We can see potential working with someone to develop accommodation and tours on the island.” But Mr Ellison, SeaLink’s second largest investor, concedes the company has copped criticism from the high cost of providing ferry services to Kangaroo Island, off Adelaide.
Passengers are charged $49 one way for the 45-minute trip and cars cost $92 one way plus a charge for the driver.
“We operate ferries in Northern Territory, Queensland and Sydney that are subsidised,” Mr Ellison said.
“We don’t get any subsidies to Kangaroo Island. We pay high council and state government wharfage charges. It is a particularly rough stretch of water, the vessels are designed specifically and so they are expensive vessels, (but) we can guarantee reliability in pretty well all weather.’’ “On that route we have had seven competitors and they have fallen by the wayside.”