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Hydrogen set to revive Devonport’s Mersey River ferry service after it was axed for being unviable

A Tasmanian ferry service previously described as unsafe and unsustainable and thought to have made its final trip, could be back on the water this year — but this time, powered by hydrogen.

The service — known as the Spirit of Devonport — has carried commuters across the Mersey River between East Devonport and the city center since 1855, making it one of Australia’s longest-running ferry services.

But a significant decline in passenger numbers and concerns around the safety of the vessel meant the service was scrapped in 2022.

Transport company Kinetic said it had now found a new owner for the ferry — Kedge Marine.

Managing director Adam Brancher said the company was investing $500,000 into getting the ferry back on the water.

However, instead of being powered by diesel, the passenger ferry would be powered by hydrogen — an Australian first.

“We were looking for a suitable commercial operation to convert to a hydrogen fuel cell,” he said.

“We have to change, we have to decarbonise, we have to do something to reduce the impact on the environment.

“It’s going to be a great business opportunity and a great way to showcase the state. We are glad we were offered her and we gratefully accepted.”

The ferry ride from one side of Tasmania’s Mersey River to the other takes only a few minutes.(Facebook: Spirit of Devonport)

The most recent vessel used to ferry passengers, the Torquay, is 37 years old and was described as “well below what we would consider to be in a good and safe state to continue operating” when Kinetic announced the service would cease.

Mr Brancher said he was “excited” to bring the vessel “up to modern standards” and said Kedge Marine was planning to offer “far more” than just a crossing from east to west.

“She is a wonderful vessel and we see the potential of all sorts of different activities, be it a scheduled service to charters and excursions,” he said.

“We’d do a route that would take us to the yacht club and also under the bridge into the wetlands area.”

Ferry to turn green

Kinetic’s Tasmanian executive general manager Mackayla Hanney said she was glad a new owner had been found.

“The Spirit of Devonport ferry service holds fond memories for many locals and has a long history of keeping the community connected,” she said.

“We are delighted the ferry has found a party interested in exploring how it may play a role for locals and tourists into the future.”

a black white photo of a ferry boat
The Mersey River ferry service is one of Australia’s longest running ferry services.(Supplied: Bass Strait Maritime Centre)

Mr Brancher said Kedge Marine would be working closely with the industry’s regulator — the Australian Maritime Safety Authority — to ensure its hydrogen powered plan was safe and worthwhile.

“The biggest thing for us is the safety of the people that go on her and the reliability of the service,” he said.

“This isn’t us just talking about it, it’s putting our money where our mouths are. We are pretty confident with the approach we are taking.”

The Devonport City Council owns the pontoon on the western side of the river, while Kinetic still has ownership of the one on the eastern side.

The council is still considering whether it was worth taking over ownership of the eastern pontoon and expects to hear from Kedge about its plans in the coming months.

“This is just a wonderful opportunity to take something that has a great history and is really good for the local community and use it to demonstrate what the future could look like,” Mr Brancher said.

The vessel’s iconic red and white will be switched to green and there’s hope previous staff will come back onboard.

The ferry was expected to be brought to Hobart for the hydrogen fuel cell to be installed, with the aim of having it back to Devonport before the end of the year.

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