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HomeLatest News'And stay down'! Ferry critics double down after new fleet temporarily withdrawn

‘And stay down’! Ferry critics double down after new fleet temporarily withdrawn

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) has directed that the three Emerald Class ferries on the F1 City to Manly route (Clontarf, Balmoral, and Fairlight) must not carry passengers until newly discovered steering faults are fixed and verified.

The three new Emerald Class Generation II vessels were withdrawn from service in late September after problems were identified. After the withdrawal,  speculation began that the entire fleet of nine Emerald Class (Generation I and II) ferries would be withdrawn from the service between Circular Quay to Manly.

It was also rumoured that perhaps three of the original four older, larger Freshwater Class ferries might return to full-time duties (the fourth, MV Narrabeen, needs an engine rebuild). However, the TfNSW spokesperson said in a statement that the first generation Emeralds “remain in service and are running alongside two Freshwater vessels.”

But the three newer vessels are stood down, Transport confirm in this statement:

“The Second-Generation Emerald Class ferries are currently out of service following steering issues with two vessels in the fleet. The investigation continues with technical assessments nearing completion.

“This work is progressing well and as necessary the vessels will be tested on water under strict safety supervision with no passengers.

Our priority remains fixing the steering issues and returning the vessels to service as quickly as possible.”

“Our priority remains fixing the steering issues and returning the vessels to service as quickly as possible.”

The issue that provoked the decision was the steering failure of the MV Fairlight ferry near Fort Denison on Monday 26 September. Of significant concern was that it occurred in the sea channel of a departing cruise ship, the Coral Princess, and its escort tug.

The previous day, the MV Clontarf, another Generation II vessel, also experienced steering difficulties.

The third Generation 2 Emerald Class ferry, the MV Balmoral, was then withdrawn with the other two on 26 September for risk assessment and they remain out of service until cleared for redeployment.

The Catherine Hamlin Emerald Class Generation I ferry at Manly Wharf. Photo: Alec Smart

Manly Observer understands the removal of the newer vessels should be a short-term setback, though that is dependent on the verification process.  The vessels have already provided plenty of surprises.

Manly councillor and head of Save The Manly Ferry campaign group Cr Candy Bingham said the new “Chinese-built Mark II Emerald ferries have been a disaster.”

“Not only were they delivered with 80 defects, the issues continue with very concerning safety issues.. it’s alarming that French operator Transdev continues to play down just how serious things have been,” Cr Bingham said.

“They are not suitable for the iconic Manly route – and we don’t want them back!”

“They are not suitable for the iconic Manly route – and we don’t want them back!”

“Bring back at least three Freshwaters until a five year plan can be implemented with fully electric look-alike Freshwater ferries, built in Australia. The Manly Ferry is a major tourist attraction for Sydney. Transdev and the NSW Government are systematically destroying this iconic attraction and killing Manly’s economy in the process.”

The Freshwater class Manly Ferry.

A bit of history

On 18 August, Manly Observer reported on the redeployment of the historic Freshwater ferries into service. They were reintroduced for a number of reasons, not least because campaigners from Save The Manly Ferry campaign group petitioned to return and retain them until a larger replacement ferry was available.

On 25 March 2021 Northern Beaches Council then Deputy Mayor, Candy Bingham, presented a petition of 22,000 signatures to the NSW Parliament calling for the retention of all four Freshwater Class ferries, which were at the time all projected to be retired permanently.

Initially, the 1,100 capacity ‘Freshies’ were only used on weekends and public holidays, although their replacements, the significantly smaller, 400-capacity twin-hulled Emerald Class Generation II ferries introduced in October 2021, struggled to cope with passenger numbers during peak commuter periods and did not handle well in rough sea conditions.

The Department of Transport insists “both second-generation Emerald Class and Freshwater ferries are fully cleared to operate in up to 4.5 metre swells”.

Yet there was considerable public concern that the new Emeralds were unable to deal with the occasionally tumultuous waves that roll in through Sydney Heads, and vulnerable to capsize. That anxiety was inadvertently stoked by ferry operators TransDev in a 10 March 2022 Fleet Operations Temporary Memorandum, which was leaked to the media in April 2022.

The alarming memo, issued by TransDev, warned captains that the newest three Emerald Class vessels risked becoming ‘airborne’ when steered into large waves.

The memo cautioned: “It was evident during the trials when navigating the Emerald Class Generation 2 vessel directly into the waves or on a 45-degree angle to the waves at speeds of round 10 knots, caused the vessel to become airborne and resulted in tunnel slamming. This can be detrimental to the vessel’s integrity and the safety and comfort of the crew and passengers.

“Running ahead of the swell must be avoided, as this may cause ‘trapping’, which results in the vessel to bow-diving or broaching, and a loss of control.”

The leaked March 2022 TransDev internal memo that continues to cause public anxiety about the purported safety of the Generation II Emerald Class ferries in rough seas.

During the frequent storms attributed to the La Niña weather phenomenon, which brought torrential rains and surging seas over the 2021-2022 summer, the smaller Emerald Class ferries were cancelled numerous times. Replacement bus services were scrambled to transport commuters the long alternative journey by road to the City.

On 12 July 2022, NSW Shadow Transport Minister Jo Haylen visited Manly to meet with campaigners and call for the immediate return of the Freshwater ferries.

Ms Haylen had already voiced her support on 31 October 2021 when she posted an open letter to NSW Transport Minister Rob Stokes calling on him to reverse the Government’s decision to retire the Freshwater Class ferry MV Queenscliff.

In the letter she said, “The overseas-built Emeralds meant to replace the Queenscliff have been beset with design and operational problems. They are also unable to safely carry passengers in swells that are over three metres which commonly occur during the crossing of Sydney Heads….

“Capacity on the replacement Emerald Class is only 400, compared to the Queenscliff and other Freshwater Class Manly ferries which sit 1,100 passengers. Such a significant drop in capacity could mean that passengers are left on the wharf…”

A TfNSW spokesperson told Manly Observer in July, “It is a common misconception that Freshwater vessels can operate in a wider range of weather conditions than a modern catamaran, such as the Generation 2 Emerald Class ferries.

“The most pressing factor in service operation during more extreme weather events is customer comfort. Regardless of the vessel class operating the F1 route, ferry services rarely operate in conditions that are uncomfortable for customers.”

The MV Freshwater ferry arrives at Manly Wharf in March 2007. Photo: Alec Smart

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Manly Observer is an experiment in providing non-sensationalist hyperlocal news on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. We cover the big news across the LGA, but with a hyper focus on the Manly electorate encompassing Balgowlah, Seaforth, Freshwater, Brookvale and Curl Curl up to Dee Why. It is run by those living in the community for the benefit of an informed community. We care about an informed and connected community. That’s it. Simple. Thank you for your support in keeping quality local news alive!

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