Moderately large swells across the Harbour put an end to the new, smaller, Emerald class ferries on the weekend while the large Freshwater class were able to continue to operate.
The Emeralds were replaced with bus services, something Save the Manly Ferries campaigners say they warned would happen because the new ferries were not equipped to handle the harbour conditions.
But transport operator Transdev insists the Emerald Gen 2 vessels were only stopped on a technicality, arguing they were required to cease service because they had not yet completed the necessary sea trials. Only now there are some rough seas can the new ferries be tested – and preferably without passengers – in the conditions.
Our original query was directed at new transport minister and Northern Beaches resident Rob Stokes, who referred the matter to Transdev.
A Transdev spokesperson added:
“On Sunday 21 November, some F1 Manly services operated by Emerald Gen 2 ferries, including the Fairlight, were replaced by bus services because of these operational restrictions. Two Freshwater class ferries remained in service.
“While the weekend service cancellations were unfortunate, customer comfort and safety will always be Transdev’s priority in such situations until all testing is complete.”
Asked when these trials were expected to be complete, the spokesperson said they expected all vessels to be permanently in service on the Manly route before Christmas, “bringing significant service improvements with higher frequency and shorter journey times.”
The spokesperson said the new ferries were restricted on operating in swells above 2.5 metres until further risk assessments were completed.
“Transdev hopes to use the expected increase of swell to conduct sea trials with our experienced trials crew and Health and Safety Representatives,” they added.
The swell was roughly two metres on the Sunday.
“Sydney heads are a unique environment so trialling must be done in that location. An updated risk assessment and performance trials are dependent on sea conditions,” the spokesperson wrote in a statement.
“Transdev hopes to use the expected increase of swell to conduct sea trials with our experienced trials crew and Health and Safety Representatives.”
Reports from passengers on the smaller ferries at the time showed strong discomfort on the vessels, particularly near the heads.
Maritime Union deputy secretary Paul Garrett told Ben Fordham on 2GB earlier today that the Emerald Class ferries are “just not right” for Sydney Heads, and the union will continue to oppose their use on the route.
“It’s like watching a wine cork afloat in a washing machine – it doesn’t work. There’d be more respect for the government if they come out today, … owned their mistake, and … get the other two [Freshwater ferries] back on service.”
This is a sentiment echoed by Northern Beaches Deputy Mayor Candy Bingham, who has spearheaded the campaign to save the older and larger freshwater class of ferries and advocated for the older fleet to be converted to electric.
Cr Bingham dismissed the claim they were stopped purely because of a procedural reason, stating it was likely just PR spin.
“The Fairlight is having difficulties in the two metres swell – 4.5 metres is a joke and won’t be achievable,” she said.