The Australian Antarctic Division had certainly imagined the 20/21 Antarctic season differently. The COVID pandemic not only postponed the planned deployment of the new icebreaker Nuyina, but also affected the entire supply of Antarctic stations. As a replacement for the transport of goods and personnel, the multifunctional vessel MPV Everest was chartered. But while the season went relatively smoothly, disaster has now struck on the ship’s last voyage home: a fire in an engine room has knocked out one of the two engine compartments.
The ship is currently sailing at just under 10 knots towards Fremantle, Western Australia, and is currently still around 1,200 nautical miles (2,227 kilometres, as of 08 April) away from the port. No one was injured in the fire and all 109 crew members and station members traveling home are fine. The Australian Antarctic Division AAD, together with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, is in constant contact with the ship and relatives back home, providing regular updates. Ships that are in the vicinity have also been informed and are available for assistance if needed. Footage circulating on the net, which was leaked to Australian television station ABC Hobart, shows flames on the deck of the ship, where they would have ignited two inflatable boats. But AAD clarifies in its latest announcement that Everest is not in distress and is sailing under its own power.
The fire had broken out on April 5 in the afternoon in the port-side engine room of the ship. The fire was quickly brought under control and extinguished by the extinguishing system and the quick intervention of the crew. Flames also reached the deck and the fire had caught two dinghies there, but this could be extinguished. The cause is not yet known and will be investigated by the owner and authorities after the vessel arrives. AAD’s Head of Operations and Safety, Charlton Clark, said, “The crew and expedition members on board did an incredible job in response to the very challenging situation in the middle of the Southern Ocean. The ship is running around 10 knots (about 18.5 km/h) on starboard propulsion and making headway to avoid the challenging weather in the Southern Ocean.” He is referring to an impending storm that is moving into the region from the west and could hit the ship at its edge with winds of up to 25 knots and waves 5 meters high. Normally, such conditions may be unpleasant for people, but they are not a problem for the ship. But with only one propulsion system, even this can become a challenge. The ship was supposed to have called at Hobart, Tasmania, and end the season there. But due to the situation it was decided that the Western Australian port of Fremantle should be called as it is closer. The arrival should take place in about 5 – 6 days. Meanwhile it was also decided to send one or two ships from Fremantle to assist the Everest. Clarifications are underway.
The MPV Everest belongs to the Dutch company Marine Construction Services and is a so-called multifunctional vessel. In addition to supply voyages, the vessel can also be used for laying pipelines, deep-sea work, geophysical surveys and oil spill response. The ship can also be used to fight fires, writes the owner company. Up to 140 people can be accommodated on board and the characteristic landing pad can accommodate helicopters up to the size of a Mi-8 helicopter. The ship was chartered by the AAD because its DP3-1A super ice class was quite suitable for Arctic and Antarctic conditions and it provided enough space for the reduced supply of the Antarctic stations.
Since the new Australian Antarctic flagship, the RV Nuyina, was not yet available due to COVID-related delivery problems, the Everest stepped into the breach. While AAD hopes the Nuyina will be able to begin service next season. But until then, various problems still need to be ironed out. Among other things, it must be clarified whether the much larger ship can even call at the planned berth in the Tasmanian capital Hobart. The Tasman Bridge, which connects downtown Hobart with the east side of town, is on the way to the ship’s refueling station. AAD director Kim Ellis had told the media that the height of the bridge was not a problem, but that a risk assessment would be done in collaboration with the port authorities and the pilots. The new icebreaker is expected to arrive in Australia in September.
Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal
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