Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Specialist Vessel Could be Acquired at a Knock Down Price Says Maritime Union

As Antarctic Icebreaker Retires She Could Fill an Emergency Void
Shipping News Feature

AUSTRALIA – Sub-zero weather conditions are not something one tends to naturally associate with a country where bushfires in the middle of the worst drought in memory have been hitting the headlines, however that is what is concerning the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) this month as the country's icebreaker Aurora Australis undertakes her final Antarctic voyage before being replaced by the RSV Nuyina later this year.

The MUA has pointed out to the authorities that it feels the withdrawal of the older ship gives the government a unique opportunity to acquire a specialist emergency response vessel for the Australian coast at a fraction of the cost of a new build.

To make the point former crew members from the Australian Antarctic Division’s flagship icebreaker are meeting with MPs and Senators from across the political spectrum this week to press the case. The MUA says the recent bushfire crisis had demonstrated the need for the development of a formal, coordinated, emergency response that encompasses maritime capability to ensure the resources needed for large-scale emergency relief and rescue operations were always at the ready.

With the capacity to carry and transfer a million litres of fuel, a functional hospital, desalination equipment that can make fresh drinking water anywhere, helicopter pad and refuelling station, and extensive storage for food, clothing and emergency equipment, the Aurora comes ready-made with the ability to deliver emergency assistance directly to devastated coastal communities.

Designed to operate independently for months at a time in some of the toughest conditions on earth, the Aurora has accommodation and catering capacities for more than 100 people in addition to the crew, allowing a team of well-equipped first-responders to be inserted into communities cut off by fires, flooding, or other natural disasters. MUA Assistant National Secretary Ian Bray is best qualified to speak out on the subject.

Mr Bray spent two decades working as a merchant seafarer including several years employed on the Aurora Australis, said the use of the Aurora to create a permanent emergency response capacity would ensure an appropriate vessel was available at all times to respond to emergencies and natural disasters. He commented:

“When a wall of flames surrounded Mallacoota, trapping thousands of people, it was merchant seafarers who were among the first on the scene. Vessels including the Sycamore, Far Saracen, and Far Senator delivered desperately needed aid to the East Gippsland community and provided vital assistance to the subsequent evacuation.

“Maritime resources were similarly invaluable to other coastal communities, with ferries undertaking the mass evacuation of people and delivering supplies, firefighting equipment, and defence personnel to Kangaroo Island, while at Eden tug boats used their fire hoses to provide a final line of defence for hundreds of locals sheltered on the wharf.

“We have been reliably advised that for less than A$10 million dollars the Australian Government could purchase the Aurora following its retirement from Antarctic duties, place it in dry dock to undertake maintenance and minor modifications, and have it launched as an emergency response vessel ahead of the next bushfire season.

“For communities cut off from road access by fires or floods, being able to have emergency supplies and assistance inserted in a timely manner is critically important. As a specialist emergency response vessel, the Aurora would be able to reach much of the Australian coast within days, armed with fuel, food, fresh water, and a functional hospital.

“The vessel would allow the restoration of communications, which was a major issue during recent fires, while the helicopter pad and refuelling station providing a launch point for search and rescue. The Aurora would also be able to provide other services, such as support to regional neighbours in the Pacific following their own emergencies, as a backup to the Antarctic program, and as a training vessel for Australian seafarers, both naval and merchant.

“Specialist emergency vessels usually come with eye-watering price tags, but the Aurora provides a unique opportunity to acquire a vessel perfectly suited to this role, with proven capability and reliability, at a fraction of the cost. Whether assessed operationally, economically, socially or politically, this opportunity to add to the depth and resilience of our emergency services in the face of an increasingly challenging world is simply too good for the country to pass up.”

The MUA has launched a petition to purchase the vessel which you can access HERE.