The new dredge for maintenance of ocean access to the Gippsland Lakes, Tommy Norton, is scheduled to arrive at Lakes Entrance early on Thursday and to cross the Lakes Entrance bar at 9am. Construction commenced with the first cutting of steel in June 2016, and has proceeded quickly with the keel laying in September 2016, launching of the vessel in April 2017, sea trails in July 2017 and a delivery voyage from China via Darwin commencing in late July. Tommy Norton was built by Damen Shipyards Group of the Netherlands at a jointly owned shipyard located on the Yangtze River at Yichang, China, 1700 kilometres upstream from Shanghai. Tommy Norton will be operated by Gippsland Ports and will be based at Lakes Entrance. In preparation for the delivery Gippsland Ports has undertaken infrastructure works on Bullock Island, Lakes Entrance, to accommodate the new dredge and to provide necessary onshore services and operational support. Included in this work on Bullock Island is extension of the sewer main to provide for the vessel to connect to the reticulated sewerage system, improved fendering and mooring bollards, upgrading of the shore power supply at the wharf face, installation of a concrete slab with collection pit and triple interceptor for refuelling, construction of a shed for dredge maintenance, spare parts and equipment storage and bunded lubricants storage container together with upgraded data connectivity and security cameras. All requisite permits and consents have been obtained for the infrastructure works, which are progressing on schedule for arrival of the dredge.
In addition, Gippsland Ports has established a temporary pipeline from Flagstaff on Cunninghame Arm to the ocean beach for the purpose of testing Tommy Norton’s pump ashore system. This system provides the capacity for beach renourishment by unloading the sand contained in the vessel’s hopper through a pipe system connected to the vessel’s bow rather than via the bottom doors. Following completion of the final acceptance testing of this system, the pipes will be removed and stored. Gippsland Ports has also recently recruited crew for Tommy Norton, which will have a complement of four when operating at Lakes Entrance. Two locals, including one current Gippsland Ports’ employee and two from interstate have been appointed following extensive interest from both domestic and international applicants. Ports chief executive officer, Nick Murray, said the Tommy Norton was a great news story for the region, as it creates four new direct jobs, replacing work previously performed over the past eight years by foreign seafarers. The vessel will be operated by Gippsland Ports on behalf of the state of Victoria, replacing a foreign vessel operated by a Netherlands based company. “In addition, technical services will be provided by locally based specialist technical services providers thereby generating additional economic activity for the region,” he said. Following the arrival of the vessel at Lakes Entrance, Damen Shipyards Group will provide Gippsland Ports’ crew with intensive training on the operation of the vessel.
In preparation for arrival, a number of Gippsland Ports’ personnel have undertaken intensive training at Smartship Australia utilising the simulator which provides simulation of Tommy Norton operating at Lakes Entrance. “This highly sophisticated technology provides realistic operation of the vessel under a variety of weather, tidal, sea state, loading and propulsion conditions, providing development and assessment of operator competence in a simulated environment, including emergencies such as loss of power or steering, and also allowing development of passage plans, standard operating procedures and emergency response plans,” Mr Murray said. The new dredge will replace the New Zealand based Pelican, operated by Van Oord, that has performed contracted dredging services on the Lakes Entrance bar for the past eight years. Delivery of the “Tommy Norton” will ensure ocean access at Lakes Entrance is maintained for the region’s economically important commercial fishing and tourism industries, and will contribute to enhanced maritime safety for recreational boating and fishing enthusiasts using the entrance. Up to 200 vessel transits per day of the entrance have been captured on Gippsland Ports’ web cameras which indicate the popularity and regional importance of this ocean access facility. Maintaining ocean access will also decrease the risk and severity of flooding for local communities at Lakes Entrance, Paynesville and Metung and the surrounding agricultural regions.
The name Tommy Norton derives from a paddle steamer Thomas Norton, which was brought to the Gippsland Lakes by the newly formed Gippsland Lakes Navigation Company in 1864. The steamer worked as a tug at the bar of the natural entrance to the Gippsland Lakes. She worked in direct competition with the , towing schooners and steamers through the tricky and forever varying entrance. When the natural entrance was totally sealed or too shallow to navigate, the PS Tommy Norton would be used to take passengers and cargo on the twice-weekly Latrobe Bridge, Sale to Bairnsdale run. On October 26, 1877, PS Tommy Norton was destroyed on the bar at the former natural entrance to the Gippsland Lakes. A formal event to commemorate the delivery of Tommy Norton is planned for early October. An opportunity will be provided to the general public to inspect the vessel following final acceptance testing and the formal transfer from the builder to Gippsland Ports. It is expected that public inspections will be conducted around the weekend of October 7, although the vessel may be viewed from the shore at its mooring at Bullock Island at any time following arrival.