WA authorities urged to support crew of Antarctic resupply vessel

By Melissa Coade

Wednesday April 14, 2021

mpv-everest
The MPV Everest in Antarctica. (Image: AAD)

The WA government and Maritime Safety Authority are being urged to avail welfare and support services to the crew of Australia’s temporary Antarctic resupply vessel, who were exposed to ‘an extremely serious fire’ last week.

Last Monday crew members of the icebreaker successfully extinguished a major engine fire on board while the vessel was located far out in the Southern Ocean about 1,700 nautical miles south. None of the 109 people on board (72 expeditioners and 37 crew) were injured.

The MPV Everest docked in Fremantle yesterday afternoon, with the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and Maritime Union of Australia calling for the government to ensure nobody would be forced to stay aboard. The icebreaker was originally planned to dock in Tasmania but was diverted to Fremantle.

The ITF told The Mandarin that all expeditioners had now come ashore. The international crew, who sailed the vessel, remain on board, however, and it was unclear if they will be given shore leave.

“Everyone onboard the MPV Everest will be in need of urgent assistance to help them process this distressing experience,” ITF Australia’s coordinator Ian Bray said.

“These seafarers have already been away from their families since October [2020], with this major fire pushing back their return home even further,” he said. 

The seafarers have been operating the vessel since last year, when the icebreaker was sent in place of the RSV Nuyina for a two-month resupply voyage

Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) director Kim Ellis said the voyage took place during a ‘season unlike any other’. The voyage successfully resupplied Australia’s Davis research station, and changed over the expeditioners who had been there since 2019 on an extended season due to COVID-19 related transport delays.

The icebreaker then travelled west to the Mawson research station but thick ice meant supply had to be delivered by helicopters.

“Despite the pandemic changing our usual transport logistics – different ships, no internal flights – we managed to keep Australian Antarctic stations going strong and free of coronavirus,” Mr Ellis said.

MPV EVEREST ENGINE FIRE
Damage left by a portside engine room fire on the MPV Everest. (AAP Image/Supplied by The Australian Antarctic Division)

Last week’s fire occurred in the vessel’s port-side engine room, damaging two small watercraft stored on deck.

According to Charlton Clark, AAD operations manager, the nearest suitable large offshore tug, GO Spica, was deployed by the icebreaker’s owners to accompany it to Fremantle dock.

“The team on MPV Everest were pleased to have the vessel accompany them the last few hundred nautical miles into Fremantle and are even more thrilled to be reunited with their families back on dry land,” Mr Clark said.

The union has sought priority access for seafarers to get support from Hunterlink, an employee assistance provider with experience helping the maritime industry. 

Mr Bray said forcing crew to remain onboard due to COVID-19 restrictions would add to their ‘serious mental anguish’.

“This has been a traumatic voyage, and representatives of specialist support services with expertise in our industry should be among the first people to board the Everest to ensure the crew’s health and welfare is a priority,” he said.

“Investigating the cause of the fire is important, but those efforts should not come at the expense of the wellbeing of marine crew and expeditioners,” Bray added.

AMSA said that whether crew were permitted on shore was not a matter for the organisation.

The cause of the fire is being investigated by icebreaker’s owner, MCS, and the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.

Update: On Thursday the ITF confirmed that the West Australia government has granted the international crew permission for shore leave – meaning they are able to leave the vessel but continue to live on board. It is unclear if the seafarers have been allowed off the ship as yet, the ITF said. The union hopes to meet with the crew this week, with the understanding that they may be allowed to fly home and replaced with a new crew who will oversee the repair of the vessel.


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