Michael Grainger, chairman of TT Line, the operator of the Spirit of Tasmania, said in a statement the move would enable the company to provide a better experience for passengers and expand its freight offering.
“The company’s operations are often negatively impacted by significant congestion in the greater Port Melbourne area, particularly when cruise ships are in port, that causes delays in loading and discharge of passengers,” he said. “Further, it is our view that these issues will only worsen in the future.”
However, former Tasmanian premier Peter Gutwein said the move was financially driven and accused the Station Pier of price gouging.
“It is very, very important we have a cost-effective dock,” Gutwein said at the time the move was announced. “[The operators of Station Pier] want to price gouge. They are looking to take every last cent they possibly can from Tasmanian businesses and customers.”
A spokeswoman for the Victorian government declined to comment on Gutwein’s claim and Brendan Webb, chief executive of Ports Victoria, said contract discussions involved a previous organisation, Victorian Ports Corporation.
“Ports Victoria will continue to maintain the heritage-listed Station Pier to ensure it continues to meet the needs of our cruise customers and the community, and that its heritage is protected,” he said.
Webb defended the pier’s facilities after the Tourism Industry Council of Tasmania criticized it for “1950’s infrastructure”.
“Over the last five years, more than $38 million has been spent on the ongoing maintenance program for the pier,” he said.
Webb said Station Pier would still be well used with the return of cruise ships to Melbourne this week and 2022-23 season bookings for the pier were at pre-COVID-19 levels with 112 cruise ship visits scheduled.
Many Geelong residents have welcomed the move but Melbourneians who live near Station Pier are concerned about the change and bayside resident Paul Bermano was one of many to post about his disappointment on social media.
“The Tassie ferries have been here my whole life, they were part of my childhood,” he said. “When the departing horn blew, I knew to leave the beach and go home for dinner. It will be a sad day for me.”
Sam Zeneldin, has run Mr Hobson cafe on Station Pier for 20 years and said the Spirit of Tasmania was an institution for the area.
“It will be disappointing to let it go because it was such an attraction and so central for people to travel,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if we are happy or not happy, we don’t count.”
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