Window shattered,rudder problem identified as new Manly ferry fails testing

One of Sydney’s new Manly ferries has failed tests in larger swells,with problems discovered with the vessel’s rudder while a window also shattered during the trial,casting doubt over its capacity to operate in all conditions on the harbour.

The Emerald-class ferry Balmoral was tested in three metre swell on Saturday,with crew identifying the rudder issue before a window in the passenger cabin broke.

One of three new Emerald-class ferries sailing into Sydney for the first time this year.

One of three new Emerald-class ferries sailing into Sydney for the first time this year.Wolter Peeters

A spokeswoman for the private operator Transdev said the root cause of the rudder issue was yet to be determined,and a review of the trials would be undertaken in coming days “including any determinations about revised operating”.

“Further tests and risk assessments need to be undertaken when conditions are appropriate to fully clear the ferries for operations in swells up to 4.5 metres,” she said.

The issues identified on the Chinese-built Emerald-class vessel during testing are the latest in a series of problems discovered on recently procured Sydney ferries.

The Indonesian-built River-class ferries cannot pass under certain bridges if passengers are seated on top,and will need to undergo major rectification to their cabins before theycan safely operate at night. Asbestos was also discovered in the ferries when they arrived in Australia.

Sources with knowledge of the tests have indicated the Emerald ferry may have flexed in the larger swell,which caused the window to break,though no evidence has been provided to substantiate the claim. Several other potential causes are also being investigated.

But the Transdev spokeswoman said preliminary investigations indicated damage to the window was not related to the vessel operating in swells.

“Neither of the two issues reported are believed to be major and were not the cause for the vessel not being yet cleared for operations in large swells,” she said.

The three new Emerald-class vessels arrived in Sydney earlier this year and were set to replace the iconic Freshwaters.

Doubt has lingered over the ability of the new ferries to operate in bigger swells on Sydney Harbour,particularly near the Heads,which the larger Freshwaters can handle.

The Emeralds have not been able to operate in larger swells recently because they had not yet been tested and certified for the conditions.

Saturday’s failed trial means the Emeralds may not be able to carry passengers in larger swells for weeks or months to come,with bus services likely to be relied upon for Manly commuters in relatively rough conditions.

“The purpose of the trials conducted today was to identify any issues and provide increased confidence in the safety,comfort and performance of the vessels before they are certified to operate passenger services in larger swells,” the Transdev spokeswoman said.

Opposition transport spokeswoman Jo Haylen said it was clear the new ferries couldn’t handle the conditions of the Manly route.

“A ferry meant to make the Manly crossing shouldn’t bend in big seas,have broken windows or issues with its rudder because of a three-metre swell,” she said.

“Passengers need a Manly Ferry service that’s safe and reliable. It’s time for the government to admit they got it wrong and bring back the two Freshwater-class ferries that they retired.”

The government last year announced plans to scrap all four Freshwater ferries but within months agreed to keep two of the boats in service for weekends and public holidaysamid community backlash.

Graeme Taylor,from Action for Public Transport,said much more testing would need to occur on the Emerald-class ferry before they should be allowed to cross the Heads filled with passengers.

“The Balmoral incident occurred when the vessel was not carrying passengers. A full passenger load of 400 people would exacerbate the stress on the structure of the vessel when operating in a swell,” he said.

Windows and rudders on the new Emerald-class ferries are fully compliant with all relevant Australian standards,Transdev said.

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Tom Rabe is a State Political Reporter with The Sydney Morning Herald.

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