CANBERRA, Australia, March 20 (UPI) -- Australia's first law enforcement patrol boat being built under a $330 million contract with shipbuilder Austal Australia has been named Cape St. George.
The vessel was named during a ceremony at Austal's Henderson Shipyard from where it was launched in January.
Cape St George is the first of 8 boats being built by Austal for the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service under a design, build and support contract for full delivery by 2015.
Since the launch, Cape St. George has undergone final fit out and sea trials, with more testing to be completed before delivery to the customer.
Australian Special Minister for State Gary Gray called the vessel a "critical milestone in Australia's maritime border security program."
In the 2010-11 federal budget, the government reaffirmed its commitment to strengthening maritime border security by investing $350 million in 8 new Cape Class Patrol Boats," Gray said during the ceremony.
Austal won the contract in August 2011 and will service the vessels for a minimum of 8 years from its Henderson Shipyard near Perth in Western Australia.
Gray said the sleek 190-foot aluminium monohull vessels -- specifically designed for their law enforcement roles -- are faster, bigger and have greater range and operational capability in comparison to the current Bay Class fleet.
Their range is around twice as far as the Bay Class, up to 4,000 nautical miles, before having to refuel.
Australian suppliers and contractors, many in Western Australia where the Henderson Shipyard is located, can benefit up $65 million in the construction phase alone, Gray said. .
Austal Chief Executive Officer Andrew Bellamy said the naming of the first Cape Class vessels was a significant milestone for the company.
"The Cape Class contract has repositioned our Henderson facilities as a defense-focused operation, while reaffirming our position as an emerging global defense prime contractor," Bellamy said
"Close to 300 staff have been involved in the construction of this first vessel and the contract has underpinned work at our Henderson Shipyard."
Marion Grant, Customs and Border Protection Deputy Chief Executive Officer for border management, said Cape St. George is "an enormous boost" in capability for the service.
"The Cape Class are significantly larger, directly connected (through better communications) to Border Protection Command headquarters and can receive up-to-the-minute tactical updates, images and video footage on contacts of interest," Grant said.
The Customs and Border Protection Service said the St. George will be put through "a rigorous five-month operational trial."
Austal said construction of the second Cape vessel is well under way, with the keel laid in January. Work also has started on the third vessel.
Austal is prime contractor for the Australian navy's Armidale Class Patrol Boats and two major defense projects for the U.S. Navy – the Littoral Combat Ship and the Joint High Speed Vessel.
In December Austal appointed Graham Backhouse as general manager of its Henderson Shipyard.
Backhouse has 24 years in defense work with industry and governments including that of the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, Italy, Austria, Canada and Australia.
Backhouse was general manager of the Australia's ANZAC Ship Alliance, an industry-government partnership providing operational support for the navy's fleet of 8 ANZAC class frigates.