Naval ship builder Austal has begun testing the first of a fleet of patrol boats due to be donated by Australia to nearby pacific nations.

Sea trials for the first of 21 Guardian class Pacific Patrol Boats are now underway in Western Australia two years after a $335 million contract was commissioned by the federal government.

Austal is a 30-year-old ASX-listed ship builder specialising in commercial and defence vessels.

The ships are part of Australia’s plan to donate 21 ships to 12 nearby nations such as Papua New Guinea and East Timor as part of a regional security strategy.

The boats will be used for maritime surveillance, rescue and to combat illegal fishing.

The patrol boats can also house a single foredeck mounted naval gun as well as midship machine guns on either side.

The 39.5 metre steel-hulled patrol boats are based on a design originally developed for the Australian Border Force.

They can travel at speeds up to 20 knots and reach a maximum range of 3000 nautical miles.

Austal reported a profit of $25.5 million in the December half from revenue of $653 million.

Its shares gained 3 per cent to $1.70 today, valuing the company at almost $600 million.

The stock has traded between $1.49 and $1.97 over the past year.

Here’s a graph showing the stock over the past five years:

Austal shares (ASX:ASB) over the past five years
Austal shares (ASX:ASB) over the past five years