Retired ferry becomes first ship to dock at Port of Sydney's new berth

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The Madeleine is docked at the newly opened cruise ship berth in Sydney Harbour. (Tom Ayers/CBC - image credit)
The Madeleine is docked at the newly opened cruise ship berth in Sydney Harbour. (Tom Ayers/CBC - image credit)

A retired ferry from the Gulf of St. Lawrence has become the first ship to dock at the Port of Sydney's newly built second cruise ship berth.

The dock cost $20 million and opened just after the cruise industry was shut down by the pandemic.

Marlene Usher, the Port of Sydney CEO, said it is a relief to finally get some revenue from the new infrastructure after taking a huge financial hit from the loss of cruise ship business.

"It feels good," she said. "It in no way can ever make up for the loss of revenue that we have from cruise, but it's promising and I think this is just the start of many opportunities."

The Madeleine, a ferry owned by Coopérative de Transport Maritime et Aérien that until recently ran between P.E.I. and the Magdalen Islands, tied up late on Wednesday. It attracted plenty of attention from onlookers in downtown Sydney.

The ferry can hold up to 750 passengers and 200 vehicles.

The new dock cost $20 million to build and opened just after the cruise industry was shut down by the pandemic.
The new dock cost $20 million to build and opened just after the cruise industry was shut down by the pandemic.(Tom Ayers/CBC)

Usher said the new dock was built to handle the larger ships that have been coming online in the cruise industry.

"It can accommodate the largest cruise vessels," she said. "It has lots of depth and lots of space, so it's a phenomenal piece of infrastructure — amazing to look at."

Optimistic for future use

Usher said she is working to diversify the port's business and make the ferry the first of many more ships to dock at the second berth.

"It's an amazing, underutilized asset here in Sydney Harbour, so we're optimistic that we're going to put that berth to good use, but … it probably won't really fulfil its true mandate until the resumption of [cruises] in 2022," she said.

Usher said the ferry is being decommissioned and may be sold, so it is difficult to say how long the ship will be docked in Sydney Harbour.

She said even though the new berth is open, workers are still installing electrical service and waterlines that will be needed when cruise ships return.

The ferry is being decommissioned and may be sold, so it is difficult to say how long the ship will be docked in Sydney Harbour.
The ferry is being decommissioned and may be sold, so it is difficult to say how long the ship will be docked in Sydney Harbour.(Tom Ayers/CBC)

Officials at the Port of Sydney's annual general meeting in February were told the port earned a $588,000 surplus at the last year-end on March 31, 2020.

The port is forecasting a loss at the end of this fiscal year of around $900,000, most of that due to the loss of the cruise business.

The loss will be covered by funds held in trust after the dredging of Sydney Harbour in 2012 and the port's cash surplus.

The coming year's finances are also not looking good, said Usher, but there is hope the cruise industry will come back with the widespread distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine.

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