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A historic former Manly ferry has sunk in Sydney Harbour, following a decades-long push for the dilapidated vessel to be restored. The 99-year old MV  BARAGOOLA began taking on water at its mooring beside the Coal Loader at Balls Head Reserve in the lower north shore suburb of Waverton about 10.30pm on Saturday, police said.

A NSW Police spokeswoman said two people on board the boat at the time had called NSW Fire and Rescue to help them pump water from the vessel, before the pair fled to safety on a small boat. They were not injured. Police arrived to find the boat submerged under about 10 metres of water.

A Transport for NSW spokesman said plans were under way to remove the privately owned vessel from the bay as it could continue to break apart and create hazards for other boaters. People are being urged to steer clear of the salvage operations.Planning is under way for a salvage operation to pull the vessel from the water. “A boom has been deployed to contain any pollutants if they appear. Reports at this stage indicate that there were only small amounts of pollutant on board and the fuel tanks were empty,” the spokesman said.  “Further enquiries will be made with the owner about the incident.”

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The 67-metre ferry was a familiar sight for visitors to the former coal loading wharf on Balls Head Bay, where it was berthed next to the former lighthouse tender MV CAPE DON. BARAGOOLA, meaning “flood tide” in local Aboriginal dialect, was built at Mort’s Dock in Balmain and launched on February 14, 1922. For six decades, it ferried passengers between Manly and Circular Quay, making its last official voyage in 1983.The 500-tonne vessel became the first moveable object to be subject to a permanent conservation order in the late 1980s, prompting the state’s then heritage minister, David Hay, to declare: “There can be no better illustration of our working heritage than an old Manly ferry such as the BARAGOOLA.”

However, the vessel spent the next two decades in limbo. It passed through the hands of various owners before the NSW government removed it from the state heritage register due to its poor structural condition in 2010.The then deputy director of the Department of Planning’s Heritage Branch, Tim Smith, said despite its significance, the vessel’s state of disrepair meant delisting was “the only valid option on heritage grounds”.  He said the vessel would be sold to a group dedicated to its restoration, known as the Baragoola Preservation Association.

In a Facebook post late on Saturday night, the association said it had “received word that BARAGOOLA sank an hour ago”. said the group had “unfortunately handed the vessel over ... a while back as COVID-19 and lack of access made it untenable”. It was unclear whether the association had sold the vessel to a new owner. In September, the association said it had been exploring moving the vessel onto a barge or dry land, or dismantling the vessel and placing it into storage to allow it to be gradually restored.The BARAGOOLA was “the last Sydney built Manly ferry that is restorable”, the post said, and the vessel “can and should be saved”.

Source : Brisbane Times - Megan Gorrey