(MENAFN - Muscat Daily) National Ferries Company (NFC) has signed a contract with an Australian company to build two ROPAX (roll on/roll off passenger) vessels that will ferry passengers as well as vehicles from Shannah to Masirah island.Strategic Marine of Australia will build the ROPAX catamarans at its facility in Vietnam with delivery planned by 2013 end.Mehdi al Abduwani, chairman, NFC, said that an international tender was floated, through the Tender Board, with a stringent evaluation process. ''This was to ensure that the company acquires the best in international design and state of the art technology and operating system for the two vessels.''The shallow waters of the Shannah-Masirah route being a major concern, the company is planning a vessel with an aluminium twin hull that allows substantial weight reduction compared to similar steel vessels. ''An aluminium hull, with its lighter weight, results in a much smaller draft of 1.5m for the vessel which ensures that it can be operated all year round without having to worry about insufficient depth of water along the passage and alongside berth. This also translates into a substantial reduction in weight, and hence a major reduction in fuel consumption,'' said Abduwani.There will be segregation of vehicles and passengers on the vessel with three decks - a main deck for vehicles, a second or upper deck for passengers and a sun deck. ''Passengers will have the choice to stay in the enclosed passenger deck or opt for the open sun deck.''The four engines powering the vessel will provide a maximum speed of 15 knots. ''With the vessel's speed, journey time will be below one hour one way, which will cut travelling time by half, compared to the existing service.'' The 45.8m long vessel is equipped with two ramps, one on each end which allows direct loading from one end and subsequently driving off from the other on arrival, cutting down operation time. The vessel is designed with the capability for direct beach landing, if required and will have provision to facilitate travel for the disabled.The ferry, manned by a six-member crew, can accommodate up to 154 passengers and will be able to carry at the same time 38 vehicles (saloon cars) or a combination of 28 cars and four trucks. NFC has set up an experienced technical team that will supervise and ensure the vessels will be built to agreed design and international standards.