Boat Torque’s name to disappear as competitors buy its remaining parts

BOAT Torque, a name synonymous with ferry services to Rottnest Island, is to disappear from Perth’s seascape.

As WA Business News revealed on May 16, Boat Torque’s owner, Trevor Kitcher, had been forced to put the business up for sale after over-committing financially to the redevelopment of Barrack Square.

Boat Torque – along with two other companies associated with Mr Kitcher – was placed in receivership with Ernst&Young just two weeks later.

In a deal signed on Monday night that is understood to be worth about $10 million, the company’s ferry business has been divided up between three of Perth’s existing tour operators. Settlement is expected to occur at the end of this month.

Captain Cook Cruises, which operates wine cruises on the Swan River, will assume control of three Boat Torque boats.

The company’s managing director Tony Baker said the boats would be devoted to leading a rejuvenation of the wine cruise industry.

Fremantle’s Rottnest Express will add the Sea Flyte to its previous complement of two vessels.

This is the largest of the Rottnest ferries and, according to Sea Flyte managing director Don Brown, means the company will have the largest, fastest and newest vessels on the Rottnest run.

As was suggested earlier in WA Business News, the Hillarys-based HFF Pty Ltd, which operated ferry services to Rottnest under a franchise agreement with Boat Torque, will assume full control of existing services from that berth.

In a shared action, Captain Cook and Rottnest Express will hold equal stakes in a new joint venture company, Perth Water Transport, that will hold the head lease for the Barrack St facilities, which, as well as moorings, include a cafe, restaurant and office space.

Mr Brown said a joint venture was necessary to control the Barrack St assets, because if they were to be separated, there would be “an enormous amount of drama trying to arrange sub-leases and that sort of thing”.

“It’s very convoluted, but unfortunately that’s the way it had to be – it was the easiest way to go about it otherwise we’d still be trying to work it out,” he said.

Boat Torque’s receiver, Brian McMaster at Ernst&Young, said another unnamed party was still involved in negotiations for Boat Torque’s assets until last weekend and, in total, he had received more than 70 expressions of interest.

Mr McMaster said more of Mr Kitcher’s companies’ assets, including the Bells Estate function centre in the Swan Valley, the Super Flyte ferry and the Underwater Explorer semi-submersible vessel, had not yet been sold.

He said he expected the Underwater Explorer to be sold, probably to a local firm, within the next few weeks, and tenders for the Bells Estate (formerly the Mulberry Farm) would close on September 6.

The Super Flyte ferry is expected to be sold into the broader market within the next few months.

Until his companies were placed in receivership, Mr Kitcher also owned a half-share of the Gloucester Ridge winery.

Mr McMaster said he had arranged with the winery’s other owners for them to take effective control of that operation until a buyer for the 50 per cent interest was found.

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