Maritime Union of Australia
Former crew members from the Australian Antarctic Division’s flagship icebreaker Aurora Australis are meeting with MPs and Senators from across the political spectrum this week, urging them to support its acquisition as a specialist emergency response vessel for the Australian coast.
The Aurora is currently undertaking its final Antarctic voyage before being replaced by the RSV Nuyina later this year, providing an unprecedented opportunity for the Australian Government to acquire a specialist emergency support vessel at a fraction of the cost of a new build.
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 refueling 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.
The Maritime Union of Australia said Australia’s 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.
“When a wall of flames surrounded Mallacoota, trapping thousands of people, it was merchant seafarers who were among the first on the scene,” Maritime Union of Australia Assistant National Secretary Ian Bray said.
“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.”
Mr Bray, who 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.
“We have been reliably advised that for less than $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,” Mr Bray said.
“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 refueling 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.”