STATE Labor and the Maritime Union of Australia have slammed the NSW government for allowing Sydney's new ferries to be built overseas after three vessels recently delivered through the Port of Newcastle were found to contain asbestos.
The new river class ferries, four of which are docked at Carrington after arriving from Indonesia earlier this month, have been declared off-limits by the union after asbestos was discovered in gaskets on three vessels.
The MUA says it warned the government and Sydney Ferries operator Transdev of the potential use of asbestos in the construction process.
"For some 18 months now, the MUA has warned both the NSW government and Transdev Sydney Ferries about our concerns that asbestos containing material was going to be used in these vessels," Paul Garrett, assistant secretary of the MUA's Sydney branch, said.
"However, Transdev Sydney Ferries has allowed a process that has seen the new vessels built with taxpayer money using asbestos containing materials.
"Those responsible at Transdev ... for the build of these vessels overseas using asbestos containing materials should own up, take responsibility and resign."
Transdev ordered 10 river class ferries and three emerald class ferries from Australian ship-builder Birdon, which outsourced the construction work to China, Singapore and Indonesia.
Transdev said in a statement that the asbestos was confined and did not present a risk of airborne contamination. It said the affected area had been remediated after an independent asbestos removal contractor was brought in late last week.
The MUA has called for the asbestos reports to be released and wants an independent inspection of the vessels, which it has advised its members not to board or inspect until further notice.
The new vessels sit alongside two lady class ferries which recently returned to Newcastle, where they were built in the 1970s, after more than four decades of service on Sydney's waterways.
The discovery of asbestos in the river class ferries, six of which are yet to be delivered, has prompted fresh attacks from the opposition about offshoring the construction of public transport vehicles.
"If we built them here, then we actually have the confidence that the standard and quality of the product are what we expect, and they're safe," deputy NSW Labor leader and Swansea MP Yasmin Catley said.
Newcastle state MP Tim Crakanthorp compared the situation to the trains the government ordered from South Korea in recent years "that didn't fit our tracks".
"Labor called for the ferries to be built in Newcastle, not offshore," he said.
"If only the Liberals and Nationals had listened."