Passenger Transfer Vessel Success

“Once again, the conditions would have been unsuitable, and no passengers would have been able to come ashore if it hadn’t been for the new PTVs. These vessels have proved to be a game changer”

The Birdon-built Passenger Transfer Vessels have been put to their intended use at Norfolk Island, carrying 1,883 passengers to shore from a P&O Cruise Ship.

This is a great success for the community and businesses of Norfolk Island.

Article and images by Susan Prior: 


On Sunday 20 October, as the sun rose to welcome a glorious day, the P&O cruise liner Pacific Explorer slid over the horizon and at 6.15 am anchored in Cascade Bay on the north-east side of Norfolk Island.

It is interesting to note that P&O’s first cruise to Norfolk Island was in December 1932 when the island was the signature port of call. The ship back then was the mail steamer Strathaird. Because of P&O’s long history with the island, the Pacific Explorer was chosen as the image on a $2 stamp release in 2018.

But this time the ship was much bigger, carrying a full complement of passengers – 2092 in all – most of whom were eager to come ashore and explore the island.

Three passenger transport vessels, or PTVs – funded by the Commonwealth of Australia as part of the government’s commitment to tourism and the island’s economy – were delivered earlier this year, ready for the start of the cruise season. And although the final contract to supply the PTV operations is yet to be awarded, Transam Argosy was the temporary contractor on this day.

As anyone familiar with Norfolk Island will know, over the years access for shipping has been a perennial conundrum; the planets need to be aligned and conditions need to be exactly right for the offloading of goods, let alone of passengers, some of whom are often elderly or mobility impaired. With the rise in popularity of cruising, islanders have watched in dismay as ships arrive and then leave, often unable to disembark passengers. Volunteers line up waiting to guide visitors, caterers prepare, cook and bake in readiness, stalls are set up, and staff are rostered to open shops. It is a lot of work – and expense – for a lot of uncertainty.

Last Sunday, I am told by Transam’s shipping agent Michelle Cyster, would have been much the same. Once again, the conditions would have been unsuitable, and no passengers would have been able to come ashore if it hadn’t been for the new PTVs. These vessels have proved to be a game changer.

Prior to the ship’s arrival, the Transam PTV crew trained for two weeks, familiarising themselves with the vessels and their capabilities. Named Wana (sea urchin), Hihi (periwinkle), and Nuffka (Kingfisher), each one can carry 90 passengers at a time. The night before, one of the PTVs was winched into the sea, with Dean Burrell staying aboard all night to make sure nothing went awry. On the morning the Pacific Explorer was due, the crew reported for work at 4.30 am. It takes about 25 minutes to get each PTV down to the jetty and into the water.

Thanks to all the logistical planning Cyster said the day went like clockwork and the crew were amazing. The characteristics of the PTVs along with the skills of each PTV driver were much in evidence, minimising any effects of the surge and swell. Passengers were able to step comfortably and safely ashore with a minimum of fuss, with the first ones landing at 7.30 am. From there Burnt Pine Travel stepped in to make sure all 1883 disembarking passengers, 47 of whom had mobility difficulties, were shuttled into town and onto various excursions.

All day the hills behind Cascade Bay and the immediate jetty area were lined with tourists and locals admiring the activity. The air of optimism was contagious. Social media was alive with commentary and photographs.

Many people, islanders and staff of government departments – including staff from the Administrator’s Office, Border Force, local business operators and more – worked incredibly hard to make this day a success. It was an auspicious to start to what is hoped will be a regular event and a boost to the local economy. 

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