SUSPENDED! Penang’s iconic ferry service vanishes for the first time in living memory

The SS Violet shuttling between Weld Quay and the Prai Junction Railway Station

Updated: The ferry service has since resumed operations, though it remains a much-reduced service.

After years of being neglected or sidelined, despite repeated warnings of such neglect in this blog, the 126-year-old ferry service connecting George Town in Penang Island with Butterworth on the island has finally been disrupted due to “technical problems” affecting all four remaining ferries. This is probably the first time there has been no ferry service since the Japanese and later Allied bombing of Penang during World War Two!

What a sad day for Penang. Even when the old Butterworth ferry terminal collapsed in 1988, at least half the ferry service was able to continue through double-decker vehicular ferries at the new terminal that was operating next to it. But the old ferry terminal was never rebuilt, and the number of ferries was halved from about a dozen ferries in operation to just half a dozen.

As the years passed, the ferry service continued to be neglected and treated as a stepchild, especially after the Penang Bridge was built in 1985. In recent years, the number of ferries was whittled down to just four – and that too only during peak hours – and in recent days, just a couple. Many just gave up on the ferries due to the long, long waiting times – and countless productive hours lost. And yet, it was the most sustainable and shortest way of commuting between George Town and Butterworth.

As one Penangite said: “I am soo sad about the Penang ferry. I love the slow, beautiful ride. It’s Penang’s iconic heritage landmark. The Penang government could have revamped it into a tourist attraction while enabling passenger load for Penangites.”

All this while, federal and state government leaders were more interested in mega-projects. The Penang government did not appear that interested in improving the ferry service (apart from an announcement of a RM90m project after Pakatan Harapan came to power – though nothing came of it). Instead, it was fixated with its mega-bucks RM46bn “PTMP”, the controversial pie-in-the-sky tunnel, cross-channel cable cars and massive land reclamation.

The federal government, through government-linked company MRCB, was more keen on building the monstrous RM2.7bn Penang Sentral terminal, which was supposed to be an “integrated hub” connecting rail, bus and ferry services in Butterworth. The first phase was completed in November 2018 – but now, there is no ferry service left to integrate! This is a classic case of putting the cart before the horse. What will happen to all those businesses that set up shop in Penang Sentral?

It remains to be seen how long it will take for the ferries to resume operations.

This is what happens when you have politicians and planners who are obsessed with mega-projects while neglecting the small things that make a difference in the lives of so many ordinary people.

All this is a far cry from the heyday of the ferry service when it actually subsidised the Penang port operations. In recent years, however, it has been incurring losses in the region of about RM20m annually – but this could easily be remedied with a more regulated and expanded service as consultants Halcrow had proposed.

Imagine, we could also have easily established a ferry construction industry. Think of the thousands of islands in Indonesia and the Philippines that could be connected – a ready market close to us. A wasted opportunity, really.

This is the announcement by Rapid Penang today:

PERKHIDMATAN RAPID FERRY TERGENDALA DAN DIGANTIKAN DENGAN PERKHIDMATAN BAS PERCUMAPULAU PINANG, 24 Ogos – Perkhidmatan Rapid Ferry tergendala bermula daripada 24 hingga 26 Ogos 2020 berikutan masalah teknikal pada enjin feri.

Ketua Rapid Ferry, Osman Amir berkata, penangguhan perkhidmatan feri itu disebabkan masalah teknikal pada empat buah feri yang beroperasi daripada Pangkalan Raja Tun Uda ke Pangkalan Sultan Abdul Halim bagi trip pergi dan balik.

“Dengan itu Rapid Ferry telah menyediakan perkhidmatan bas percuma untuk membawa penumpang dari Penang Sentral ke Terminal Weld Quay. Sepuluh bas disediakan dengan frekuensi 10 hingga 20 minit. Bagi pihak Rapid Ferry, saya ingin memohon maaf atas segala kesulitan,” jelas beliau.

Berikut adalah makluman bagi perkhidmatan bas yang disediakan : Dari Penang Sentral (Platform 11 & 12)Bas Pertama : 06.00 pagiBas Terakhir : 11.00 malamDari Terminal Weld Quay (Terminal A)Bas Pertama : 07.10 pagiBas Terakhir : 11.00 malam

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GEORGE TOWN, Sept 2 ― Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow said today he hopes the proposed new fleet of ferries that the Transport Ministry planned to acquire for the Penang ferry service will include those that are able to transport vehicles.

Anil must update this posting as the ferry service will not be suspended for the terminal upgrading works yet. The ferry service has resumed as usual until further notice.


How Singapore hawkers use technology to keep business going amid covid-19 pandemic.


Penang Ferry crisis resumed today .

However, Musang King crisis is now in Raub, Pahang.
Hopefully no such crisis for Durian in Balik Pulau.


Raub Musa King standoff can set the legal precedence over who own the rights to the bumper luvmcrative harvest.


A group of farmers calling themselves the Save Musang King Alliance (Samka) cautioned that Malaysia’s durian industry is “at risk of being destroyed” if the authorities allow the Royal Pahang Durian Group (RPD Group) to take over the fruit production at the orchards.


durian runtun money production like ducks laying golden eggs. durian soon have a prefix in front like Royal Air Force and now Royal Durian????


That country has become a leader in nurturing its culture and researching the history of the entire region. On the other hand, Bodohland excels in denying, burying, destroying and even polluting with selective alien elements.


Why Felda not switch to planting Musa King durian when already no market (from overseas) for palm oil that is deemed an unsustainable industry by EU?

I suspect Felda lacks expertise in durian growing and would need non-bumi participation?


Palm oil is a global commodities while Durian is seasonal fruit, you can’t compare 2 side by side. Besides, Palm trees are much easier to taken care of and harvesting is much simpler. Musang King Durian has no chance to achieve large scale export volume compare to Thai durian due to different in harvesting method.


Heard of low volume premium pricing strategy?

Too bad tunglang is no longer around to give us his insight on marketing concepts and competitive advantages.


This was a major tourist attraction, at least for domestic tourism. Another example of fascism (capitalism and politics) killing off tradition, local character, social stability and resources. Neglect, destruction, privatisation, exploitation, gentrification, gigantism and pollution. Extracting unearned income and stashing payoffs in the “very democratic” foreign capitals. Rinse and repeat.

Just like GeorgeTown went down the tubes after the “world heritage” scam. Just like the ferry fire disaster before toll bridge scam. Just like the electricity outages before the IPPs scam.

Perhaps we can now have flying taxis and flying buses to the mainland.


Agreed; I was mistaken. But it showed that the service was in great demand, even from visitors. But it stood in the way of boosting traffic on the first bridge opened 3 years earlier. What followed was slow neglect and diversion of tourists (and ferry) to Langkawi. Other well-known major examples of piratisation: destroying the old system to replace it with successive white elephants: :- private buses and minibuses :- the rail system :- municipal management of trash and greenery (e.g. sidewalks and parks) :- govt. provision of water and sewerage. As for utilities, water remains cheap compared to electricity… Read more »


1988 – ferry has not be piratised. But BN gomen no $$$$ or interest in making good the plafform? If Private, then victims can sue the Owner


Ask Car and Kapcai owners. Why they dont use the ferries? PF so vocal like lion and now they meow or silence is golden. As many are private car owners, time to be sound of silence?


It has been rebranded as RapidFerry, but before service breakdown it runs 2 ferries at one time so waiting time of 30 minutes a norm.
Rapid speedboats to be in new muafakat manifesto????


ask dr pee wee. he is the transport man. he has degrees in transport. maybe he studied kam tim using selling


“The federal government should allocate sufficient funds not only to stabilise the service but also to transform the overall mode of transport on the island and Butterworth,” CM Chow said in a statement issued today.

Already no federal funding for airport expansion. Possibly will be a carrot to lure votes to PN in coming snap election?


why readers here clamour for expansion when so oppose to development? Best for airport to shift to kulim as how many travel by planes. If airport close, the land can be used for buildings and factories, No need for 3 blind mice.
Lucky Umno terminate Peng land as free port and orso did not expand the seaport and make Peng land as kampong port and not compete with Sing land.


Kulim plan disappeared with Mukhriz. New MB from PAS will develop elsewhere, possibly an Islamic centre in Kedah for more dakwah activities.


Sori buddy. They wanted to make life happy to greenies. No expansion and renegade to kampong port like like the sea port.


NST 23 Aug 2019:
Penang’s ferry service, which holds deep sentimental value for people of the state, is poised for a major upgrade with the introduction of passenger catamarans and ferries dedicated for tourists.

The government had allocated RM90 million for the upgrading project but the disbursement of funds was postponed pending the settlement of legal issues between the current and previous operator.


Hopefully the ferry closes forever. Hate the stupid jam at Weld Quay. If the ferry is a slow boat to China, the passengers would have died of old age upon arival.


I have no car. I live in Butterworth but work in Penang island. Ferry is my only means of transportation to work.

If you hate the stupid jam, blame the cars. You will likely die before old age (slow death) from the carbon emissions from those cars.


Remember: “Gaya mesti ada”. Propaganda says we are not stupid to :- pay rip-off interest calculated in advance for record periods (not refunded if you clear the loan early) :- worry about evading tontos :- pay for damage from floods and accidents from shoddy roads and insane traffic management :- pay for shoddy parts :- support cronies through tolls, “national” cars and APs :- support insurance scammers by paying higher insurance rates :- support the medical industry and die faster by remaining motionless for hours while breathing in poisons. What an advanced country! Every household has an average of 1-2… Read more »


High affinity for car ownership => high carbon footprint, high pollution, global warming.

Most graduates strap with 9-year car loan before landing first job, embrace depreciation while complain cannot afford to buy house? End up become part-time Grab driver to service loan? A necessity or bin chui/gaya?


the Chua and Khoo Jetties are still strong. Slow boat from China bring happy China men to cari makan in Peng land. See Boon Siew start as bicycle strike big with kap cai and kap tua with Honda Car. BTW your forefather survive the slow boat journey?