The NSW Government have committed to returning three Freshwater-class ferries to regular service on the F1 Manly-City route. On 6 June Premier Chris Minns and NSW Transport Minister Jo Haylen announced their joint commitment to retaining three of the four popular ‘Freshies’ – MV Freshwater, MV Queenscliff and MV Narrabeen – for long-term service.
By mid next year (2024) the ambition is to have all three Freshwater ferries in full operation on the harbour, while the MV Collaroy remains a more complicated vessel to return.
“The previous Government’s plan to retire the Freshwater ferries was reckless. We’re reversing their decision and returning the iconic Freshwaters to Sydney Harbour,” Premier Minns said of the decision.
A Transport spokesperson elaborated: “The former government planned to retain just one Freshwater-class ferry in service, running weekend services only. The second-generation Emerald-class ferries, ordered by the former government to replace the Freshwaters, have been plagued by operational issues, including cracked hulls and being unable to dock at low-tide.
“The 40 years old beloved Queenscliff is currently docked at Cockatoo Island undergoing important restoration work, including upgrading engines and machinery…. The Queenscliff is planned to return to the F1 Manly to Circular Quay route this summer and will join the Freshwater in ferrying passengers every day…”
In a morning press conference aboard the MV Queenscliff earlier this week, Mr Minns said, “One of the iconic parts of our [Sydney] global image’s has been these beautiful Freshwater ferries, known throughout the world, carrying people to and from Manly.
“The previous government decided to purchase foreign-built ferries and operate them on Sydney Harbour. It’s been the worst-kept secret that they’re pretty much a disaster!…
“A big part of solving Sydney’s public transport problem will be traversing the harbour and to do it at scale in these beautiful old [Freshwater-class] vessels, with Australian-made labour refurbed with Australian engineers and manufacturers…”
Minister Haylen added, “This marks the beginning of a new era for our iconic Freshwater ferries… and they carry over 1000 passengers per trip, which will help us with the summer demand.”
When asked about the timeline for repairs and reintroduction of the MV Narrabeen, Ms Haylen replied, “The Narrabeen only has half an engine…. The Narrabeen will need to go into dry dock, and we anticipate that will happen in the first quarter of next year… By mid-next year, we hope to have three Freshwater ferries in operation on Sydney Harbour – that’s our ambition.”
Coast clear but costs not clear
Projected repair and improvement costs for bringing the three Freshwater-class ferries back into full-time service were not given, although Ms Haylen disclosed that “around $16 million is the cost for dry-docking and refurbishment,” for each ferry.
The MV Queenscliff refurbishment has involved more than 650 square metres of new ceiling panels; more than 7kms of new cabling; more than 4,000 litres of paint; more than 750 square meters of new flooring; every interior seat re-covered. The final works, reinstalling oil distribution boxes, require dry-docking the Queenscliff at Garden Island and is subject to the Australian Navy’s maintenance schedule.
Ms Haylen, who, as Shadow Transport Minister, travelled to Manly on 12 July 2022 to meet campaigners to discuss reintroduction of the Freshwaters, added, “These vessels are beloved and reliable, and it is exciting we are in the final stretch in getting the Queenscliff back on the F1 Manly to Circular Quay route.”
As for reintroduction of the fourth Freshwater, MV Collaroy, Ms Haylen explained there were complications that might see the vessel permanently retired. “There are maintenance and operational challenges there, including that we can’t get parts directly for the Collaroy,” she said.
Northern Beaches councillor and Save the Manly Ferries campaigner Candy Bingham took to social media shortly after the Premier’s announcement to declare her enthusiasm.
“This is a huge win for the community and the Save The Manly Ferry Alliance, which has campaigned long and hard to keep these ferries in operation until a better solution can be found for the troubled Emerald II Ferries, which have been plagued with problems.”
Manly Observer understands the campaigners will still work towards a fourth Freshwater (MV Collaroy) returning to the water, or perhaps a fourth electric-powered look-alike.
What about the Emeralds?
As Manly Observer has previously reported, the Chinese-built Emerald-class generation II ferries have been plagued with problems, from wave damage to sudden steering failure. The MV Fairlight, for example, has suffered nine steering failures since it began service on 31 October 2021, the first of the three generation 2 Emerald-class ferries with ‘wave piercing hulls’ that operate on the F1 Manly-City route.
The three Emerald-class generation 2 (Gen II) ferries, Fairlight, Balmoral and Clontarf, were designed by Port Macquarie-based boat builder Birdon (an Australian firm that grew out of a family-run dredging business founded in 1977).
However, the trouble-prone trio were actually ‘fabricated’ in China by Jianglong Shipbuilding company, then delivered to Newcastle in late 2020, from where they were towed to Birdon’s marina in Port Macquarie for modifications. Hence why they’re often described in the media (and by campaigners who criticise their shortfalls) as ‘Chinese-built’.
The six Generation 1 Emeralds (Catherine Hamlin, Fred Hollows, Victor Chang, Pemulway, Bungaree and May Gibbs), which the three generation 2 Emeralds succeeded, were built by Tasmanian-based shipbuilder Incat.
Manly Observer had repeatedly asked what happens to the Emerald II fleet from next year but is yet to receive a satisfactory reply. During the press conference, it was referenced as an operational decision to be made down the line once new timetables are in play. It has been insinuated but not overtly stated that they will continue on the route to meet increasing consumer demand, particularly during peak commuter periods.
Manly Observer previous reporting on Manly Ferries