Ferry firms confident of subsidy offer

EAST Coast adventurers will learn in the next two days if they will be able to visit Maria Island for free this winter.

A month of uncertainty saw the island's two ferry operators cease trips amid confusion over the government's offer to help during the quieter winter months, as well as alleged unsafe conditions at the Darlington jetty.

But operators say they are now confident of negotiating a deal similar to that of winter 2013, which secured free passage for tourists and saw a record 5000 people visit to the island.   

 The Sunday Examiner  understands Michael Davis, of East Coast Cruises, and John Cole-Cook, of the Maria Island Ferry, will each be offered the subsidy in the next two days, which is said to mirror last year's landmark payment-per-passenger deal. 

This comes after Parks Minister Matthew Groom on Thursday announced a one-year extension to the program, in the hope of keeping the ferries operating after an uncertain month.

Mr Davis said he stopped his taxi service to the island on May 1, with his business's Facebook page suggesting he was yet to commit to the 2014 winter season.

The decision would have left the market open to the Maria Island Ferry, but Mr Cole-Cook said he stopped taking passengers because of dangerous conditions at the incomplete Darlington jetty.

This meant the island was without regular transport for three weeks, with Triabunna businesses sweating on whether there would be any service at all.

Mr Cole-Cook said last week his service would not operate until the $1.5 million jetty upgrade was complete in early July. 

``You can't take people to an unsafe jetty,'' he said. 

``When the work is done, then we'll certainly resume our service.''

Mr Davis, after confirming his presence this season, said he was confident people would be able to travel to Maria Island for free. 

``My hope is that regardless who operates the winter, be it me or another operator, winter fares to Maria Island are reduced and serve as an incentive for people to get over there,'' he said. 

``No traffic to Maria doesn't just harm us as ferry operators, but other businesses here in Triabunna suffer as well.''

At its tourism peak in 2006-07 Maria Island enjoyed 15,000 visitors each year, but a major downturn saw numbers half by 2009-10. 

More frequent crossings helped bring 12,000 people to shore in 2011-12, with the island's image further bolstered by a Tasmanian Devil relocation program, the $1.5 million jetty upgrade, and plans to upgrade ferry services and boost visitor numbers to 30,000 a year. 

East Coast Regional Tourism Association chief executive Ruth Dowty said the newly-formed Maria Island Tourism Group would meet in the next fortnight to discuss the future direction of the island.

Email adruce@examiner.com.au or  Twitter @AlexDruce1987 

Maria Island ferry operators are confident that services will  continue through the winter months.

Maria Island ferry operators are confident that services will continue through the winter months.

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