Australia Orders Ferries to Replace Defect-Plagued Two-Year-Old Class

Australian ferries
Australia plans to replace trouble plagued ferries (Photo by Hippomenes - CC BY-SA 4.0)

Published Jun 30, 2023 7:48 PM by The Maritime Executive

Growing concerns over the safety of River Class ferries operating along the Parramatta River in Sydney, Australia, has prompted the New South Wales (NSW) government to order a new fleet of seven ferries. Barely a month after Transdev Sydney Ferries was forced to take one of its passenger ferries out of service after it struck a wharf in Sydney’s Barangaroo area, the NSW government has awarded a multi-dollar contract to Australian company Richardson Devine Marine Constructions (RDM) to build the new seven Parramatta Class ferries.

This follows rising safety concerns involving the River-class ferries that have been in operation for less than two years having entered service in October 2021. Built in Indonesia, the River-class ferries operated by Transdev have come under criticism after 430 design defects were identified during the vessels’ acceptance process.

Among the identified defects include the inability to pass underneath certain bridges on Sydney’s Parramatta River if their top decks are occupied by passengers, the inability to sail in reverse following emergency stops, the presence of asbestos in some onboard spaces, and cabin reflection issues that could prevent the crew from clearly seeing out of the wheelhouse during nighttime.

Other issues that have plagued the ferries include sub-standard fit and finish, engine stalling, and the possibilities of fire outbreaks or electrocution due to sub-standard electrical equipment and sub-standard steering components.

The problems facing the River-class came to light on May 31 when the Cheryl Salisbury struck a wharf in Sydney’s Barangaroo area while it was maneuvering to depart the wharf. Although it was not transporting passengers at the time of the incident, one crewmember sustained injuries.

Frustrations over the 10 River-class ferries procured by the previous government have prompted the current NSW administration to order seven new vessels. Working with the naval architects, operator Transdev, and union representatives, the NSW government intends to ensure that the faults that plagued the River-class ferries are not repeated.

The new Parramatta-class ferries have been designed by Incat Crowthers, a leading naval engineering company, and will be built by RDM. Construction of the seven new vessels will commence in July with the first vessel to be delivered in February next year.

One key major design aspect of the 78-foot Parramatta-class vessel is that the ferries will not include upper deck seating that was deemed too dangerous in the River-class when passing under Camellia Railway Bridge and Gasworks Bridge along the Parramatta River.

“The NSW Government is committed to building things here again to create jobs, boost manufacturing, and end the failed offshore imports of the previous Liberal Government. This commitment will produce Aussie-made NSW-designed ferries equipped with modern propulsion technology to ferry passengers well into the future,” said Chris Minns, NSW Premier.

The new ferries will predominantly be in service between Circular Quay in Sydney to the Parramatta River carrying up to 200 passengers while using 40 percent less diesel. Though diesel-powered, the design offers flexibility to convert to electric propulsion when engine replacement is due, aligning with improved battery technologies and charging infrastructure development. The new vessels will have a lifespan of 25 to 30 years.

Top photo by Hippomenes (CC BY-SA 4.0)