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Ship Lift


A $400 million ship lift is to be built in Darwin.

The 103 metre lift will bring $260 million into the Northern Territory economy every year by servicing large vessels from industries such as offshore petroleum, fishing, pearling, Defence and the Border Force. It will create about 100 jobs during construction and generate about 400 directly and indirectly during operation.

The ship lift, which will be used to raise vessels up to 5000 tonnes out of the water so they can be serviced, repaired or stored, including for safety during cyclones, will position Darwin as a major national and international player in the marine services industry.

Darwin has the only functional deep-water port in Northern Australia and up to 150 vessels a year are expected to use the ship lift. There will be a 20 hectare hard stand area for ship repair and maintenance work, and four wet berths. The ship lift will save large vessels having to travel for 10 days to be serviced in another port.

The engineering, design and construction contract will be awarded in late 2020, enabling construction to start during 2021. Construction is anticipated to take two years, which means the ship lift should start operating in 2023.

Paspaley Group – which is owned by Territorians, has its headquarters in Darwin and owns a large fleet of pearling vessels – is partnering with the Territory Government to build the ship lift at East Arm. The Territory Government has already committed $100 million to the project.

The Federal Government’s Northern Australian Infrastructure Facility, which has a $5 billion fund for nation-building projects, is to carry out due diligence to consider a loan to the Territory Government for the project.

Chief Minister Michael Gunner has met Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Minister for Northern Australia Matt Canavan to stress the importance of the Federal Government directly investing in the project given its value in providing locally based maritime service capability to Royal Australian Navy and Border Force patrol boats stationed in Darwin Harbour.

The recently established Investment Territory team will lead the ship lift Project Steering Group.

Shaun Drabsch, chief executive of the Department of Trade, Business and Innovation says it will be logical for many other vessels to be repaired and maintained in Darwin rather than sail for many days to Cairns, Perth or even Singapore.

Mr Drabsch says the ship lift will kickstart associated industrial growth at East Arm.

“Darwin will become a full-service harbour. Ships will not only be maintained in Darwin but more are likely to be based here if there is a ship lift.”

Pearl Marine Engineering will move to East Arm when the ship lift is built – and that will open the way for massive long-term commercial and residential development at Frances Bay.

Paspaley chief executive James Paspaley says his company owns and maintains a large fleet of vessels, all regularly sailing in and out of Darwin Harbour.

“These vessels, currently maintained in Darwin, will help ensure the ongoing viability of the ship lift, as the anchor tenant for the facility.”

The ship lift project is supported by industry.

Kerryn Smith, chief executive of the Australian Industry Defence Network NT says her organisation is optimistic about the future of the Territory Defence industry.

“This is critical if the NT wants to secure its place as a strategic location that provides the necessary support to key allies within global military and commercial markets,” she says. “We are the essential stepping stone for strategic business to and from the north and south. Building a ship lift will attract significant future investment into our region.” TQ


A ship lift is used to lift vessels out of the water so they can be serviced, repaired or stored, including for safety during cyclones.

A platform is lowered underwater and the ship is floated above the platform. The vessel is then raised out of the water with a series of winches.

In addition to the ship lift itself, the facility will include:

  • A heavy duty hardstand where ships will be stored, serviced or repaired out of the water
  • Wet berths, which are like wharves, allowing vessels to tie-up without leaving the water
  • A blast and paint building, which allows vessels to be sandblasted and repainted
  • A self-propelled modular transporter, which transports ships around the facility once they are out of the water
  • An administration building

The Territory needs a ship lift to maintain vessels operating in or visiting Darwin Harbour. It is essential to keep pace with growing industry demands and increasing vessel sizes. The nation needs a ship lift in Northern Australia to repair and sustain Naval vessels.

Commercial ship lift facilities in Darwin are aging and small, and the ship lift at the Coonawarra Naval Base is due to be decommissioned by 2024. And the commercial ship lift operated by the Paspaley Group at Frances Bay will be decommissioned once the new ship lift at East Arm is operational.

This creates the need for new infrastructure to maintain existing vessels in the harbour and to attract future growth.

The ship lift will be operated by Paspaley Group on a commercial basis under a legislated open access regime to ensure fair and equal use for all customers.

Environmental approvals from the Territory Government will need to be obtained.

The facility will be built on Territory Government-owned land after a land swap with the Paspaley Group.