FROM next week the slipping of vessels will cease in Coffs Harbour with the commercial fishing fleet, sailors and boat owners forced to travel to either Yamba or Port Macquarie for service and repairs.
Current slipway leasee Ray Vanderkly will vacate the slipway next Wednesday, as New South Wales Trade & Investment Crown Lands begins remediation to clear heavy metal contamination that dates back before Ray's 14-year lease.
Investigations by the Environment Protection Authority found tributylin, an antifoulant used on vessels prior to 1989, at the site.
The Coffs Harbour Fishermen's Co-operative had hoped to run a caretaker slipway facility in the event of a maritime emergency, but the proposal was this week knocked back by the department.
"This could be a huge environmental problem if a vessel starts to take on water, there could be an oil spillage in the outer harbour, because there is nowhere to land a vessel in distress except for Jetty Beach," Co-op chairman Russell Kerr said.
"I can't believe the Government has spent so much money on making Coffs Harbour a safe, all-weather port and opened itself up to the risk of not having a slipway while it remediates the site. We are totally in the dark as to what will happen after that time."
Shipwright and commercial fisherman John Wait said the department found there was an occupational issue with a third party operating the slipway's cradle.
"This is a major issue for Coffs Harbour's aging fishing fleet, as we are required to have our boats lifted and serviced annually to prove they are seaworthy and a lot of the insurance policies on these boats don't cover them for bar crossings, which they'll now have to do - then there's the added cost of fuel in travelling to other ports for slipping,"
In May, the department called for expressions of interest for the slipway site and said it is investigating proposals that would deliver a capital investment in a new slipway facility.