SYDNEY’S troubled second-generation Emerald-class Manly ferries are to be re-engined, the NSW Government announced on Wednesday (7 February).

Since their introduction in late 2021 the three Chinese-built, 400-pax catamarans have encountered a number of defects and problems including steering failures, amid ongoing questions over their suitability for the Circular Quay-Manly run.

Last year the government was forced to abandon plans to withdraw all four of the older but much larger Freshwater class, allocating $71 million in the 2023-24 budget for the refit and reintroduction of three of those 1,000-pax vessels. While the Mk II Emeralds theoretical capacity is 400, media reported passenger loads had to be regularly capped at 250 in order for the ferries to maintain timetables.

Now the Mk IIs will be fitted with new, heavier duty engines ensuring safer, smoother and more frequent journeys along the city’s most popular ferry route, the government says.

Balmoral was removed from passenger service on 4 February for about 10 weeks for the new engine to be fitted. Once it is back in service Clontarf will be withdrawn, while Fairlight’s engine swap is timed for late August.

Transdev Sydney Ferries is undertaking the re-fitting program at its Balmain shipyard, with around 30 people working on the project. The cost of the program will be borne for by TSF. Once the engines are installed, Transdev will conduct extensive sea trials with health and safety representatives and industry regulators, transport minister Jo Haylen said.

“These overseas-built ferries had a challenging start to their time on the harbour, but these new engines will mean the ferries will spend less time out of service and more time serving passengers. By re-fitting the vessels with hydrogen fuel capable equipment, we are also moving forward on future proofing the Sydney ferry fleet,” Ms Haylen said.

“Passengers can still enjoy a trip on the Harbour between Manly and Circular Quay on the iconic Freshwater Class vessels which are now running twice as often, offering more choice and increasing capacity on the popular F1 route.”

The F1 Manly service will continue operating the current extended summer timetable with two Freshwater class vessels and two Emerald class.

Unlike the problematic Mark IIs the Mk I Emeralds were built in Hobart by InCat Tasmania.