The historic MV Baragoola, a retired Sydney Harbour ferry that carried passengers between Circular Quay and Manly for 60 years, sank at its moorings adjacent to Balls Head on New Year’s Day.
MV Baragoola, moored at the historic Coal Loader in Waverton, suddenly sank around 10.30pm on the night of 1 January 2022. There was no injury or loss of life.
Two people on board at the time reportedly alerted NSW Fire and Rescue to help pump water from the stricken vessel. However, by 11pm the century-old ship was completely submerged in 10 metres of water. Harbour authorities installed floating booms around the site to prevent debris and marine diesel from escaping and creating a hazard to harbour traffic.
The vessel, which was being undergoing refurbishment by the Baragoola Preservation Association, was just six weeks short of the centenary of its launch on Valentine’s Day, 14 Feb 1922.
An operation to salvage the vessel is currently underway, although it is believed the ferry is now irreparable and will likely be dismantled for scrap.
NSW Maritime said it is “continuing to respond to the sinking of former Manly Ferry Baragoola in Sydney Harbour with options for salvage being assessed. These images show the wreck is sitting in about 6-8m of water – and the front of the wreck part of the superstructure is visible having broken away. Our teams are working to collect any debris from the wreck, and working with the Port Authority to ensure pollution entering the harbour is contained and recovered.”
Somewhat ironically, Baragoola is an Australian Aboriginal word for “flood tide”, which describes how it met its unfortunate demise as the seawater entered and overwhelmed all cabins and compartments in an estimated 30 minutes.
Eye witness account
Witness Seb Alvarez, who happened to be at the adjacent Coal Loader with friends, filmed the actual sinking from the platform above the Baragoola’s mooring.
“My fiancé and I met up with some mates there to chat and ring in the new year,” Seb recalled. “We were there chatting for a few hours, and we heard some yelling coming from the water.. At this point, a fire truck pulled up at the entrance with lights flashing, followed by a few police cars. The fire fighters ran over to the lookout with police following. One firey was on the phone asking (what we would come to know as an evacuee) a person on the phone where they were, and who was on board.”
“Around the ferry, two police boats arrived quickly, with spot[light]s on the craft. A dinghy, which contained two people, was floating among them… At this point the boat started to pitch on its axis, glass started to break loudly and the Baragoola was taking on water. All together it took 30 minutes to sink and spew its contents outwards into the harbour…”
Seb told Manly Observer, “Overhearing the emergency responders, there were only two people on board, and they were safe on the dinghy. There wasn’t much else they discussed, as the whole situation took over and distracted everyone.”
What is the Baragoola?
The first regular steam-powered ferry services to Manly Beach began in Oct 1855 with the opening of the wharf in Manly Cove. Over the next century the coal-fired ferries were converted or replaced, at first to oil – which was very smoky – then diesel.
From its launch in 1922, the last of six Binngara-class ferries (which all started with B and adopted Aboriginal names), to its decommissioning in 1983, the 451 tonnes, 60.7-metres-long Baragoola underwent several transitions. These included its conversion to diesel-electric and enclosure of her upper decks to increase her capacity from 1218 to 1523 passengers.
Baragoola’s life was not without incident. In her Wikipedia entry, it states: “Baragoola was involved in a number of collisions while in service. On Christmas Eve 1926, off Kirribilli Point, she collided with the Sydney Ferries Limited’s Kosciusko.
“On 12 September 1927, Baragoola ran down a lifeboat from the French steamer Ville D’Amiens, five people were thrown out of the lifeboat, one of whom was hospitalised. The people were rescued by two fishing trawlers in the vicinity and the lifeboat was severely damaged.
“On 28 August 1934, Baragoola struck and killed a whale. The event was widely reported in the media when the disposal of the corpse took multiple attempts over nine days.”
On 26 Aug 2021, this reporter walked around Balls Head Reserve and observed two police boats alongside Baragoola responding to what appeared to be a party taking place on deck – during Sydney’s strict second Covid-19 Lockdown.
The BPA responded to a supporter’s query on Facebook: “..long story short is an individual unlawfully ‘sold’ the vessel to the individual squatting onboard. The big issue the ownership paperwork disappeared with a prior committee. The government authorities recognise the BPA as the legal owners. The BPA is the one paying the insurances.”
During the last months of 2021, prior to her sinking, Baragoola’s future was anything but secure.
Then, in the lead-up to Xmas, on 22 Dec 2021, the BPA’s Facebook page responded to claims that items from the ship were up for sale: “The Baragoola or her equipment is not for sale. Several individuals have been trying to push the caretaker into selling equipment from the vessel. And another individual is claiming he’s bought the vessel. Both these activities are not on. There is enough false rumours out there. More arnt [sic] needed.”
Rumours will no doubt be stoked while the submerged vessel awaits its final fate.
Both the Baragoola Preservation Association and ship owner, Mr Treleaven, were contacted for comment.