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Expression of interest process closes on Brisbane's eight wooden cross-river ferries

Expression of interest process closes on Brisbane's eight wooden cross-river ferries

5 September, 2022

An expression of interest process facilitating the sale of eight wooden ferries has closed marking the end of another era on the Brisbane River.

About 20 people a day inspected the former City Hopper and cross-river ferry vessels while they were displayed at The Yard in Hemmant between Tuesday and yesterday.

Ranging in age from 30-38 years, Koopa, Bulimba, Gayundah, Mermaid, Doomba, Otter, Lucinda and John Oxley were put up for sale after Brisbane City Council dumped plans to refurbish them.

A $300 million flood recovery and rebuild program was prioritised instead.

All eight of the council's wooden ferries were taken off the water in July 2020 after inspections revealed safety concerns including rotten wood.

Transdev, the company that operated Brisbane's ferries until late 2020, forfeited $4 million of its bond – which included a guarantee the ferries be kept in good condition – at the end of its contract.

New operator RiverCity Ferries brought five KittyCat ferries up from Sydney to replace the wooden vessels on the key inner-city routes.

Brisbane Lord Mayor Adrian Schrinner last year said a detailed business case presented to the council recommended all of the ferries be decommissioned.

A Brisbane City Council spokeswoman said the $4 million received at the end of Transdev's contract would "go towards vessel and terminal repairs across the network".

"The budget now reflects the announcement made several months ago that we will restore one vessel rather than three to prioritise flood recovery," she said.

Loss of Brisbane history

But some community boaties said the deterioration was normal for wooden boats.

Brisbane marine engineer Lucas Lenigas said thousands of dollars had been spent on the vessels during their life and they had "been kept in good condition".

"If you want to build one of those ferries today, you'll have to find several million to rebuild it and the wood — if you can find it," he said.

"The problem for people owning them is that there are not many timber shipwrights left and if you do find them, it's very expensive."

He said the ferries were "out of the realm of the working class".

"To keep it in the water costs a fortune, you have to slip it every year, paint it — it's a never ending thing on timber boats," he said.

"They're a labour of love, I lived on one for 14 years."

Another south-east Queensland timber boat lover and owner, who wished to remain anonymous, said she would "take any [of the ferries] home and be a happy customer".

"The reality is timber boats need care and maintenance," she said.

"Fresh water is the devil, but manageable."

She said it was normal for timber boats to experience rot.

"Obviously prevention is better than cure," she said.

"Timber is a natural material, and the marine environment is one of the harshest on earth."

Macleay Island property owner Peter Jeremijenko said the ferries would be ideal to take tourists or students around calm south-east Queensland waterways.

Former drivers pay a visit

Manheim Brisbane auctioneer Steffan Lancaster said the ferries were taken out of the water and put onto hardstands seven months ago.

He said a few former ferry drivers had been to Hemmant to inspect their former workplaces.

"A lot of people are sad to see them go from the river," he said.

"They're quite iconic and not every city has these."

Interested buyers were invited to submit an expression of interest for the vessels.

The council will assess the submissions and then decide whether to accept any or proceed to an auction.

The new operator of Brisbane River's cross-river KittyCats, River City Ferries, was also contacted for comment.