A serious fire on board Australia’s temporary Antarctic resupply vessel MPV Everest has caused significant damage, with flames engulfing cargo on the deck after escaping the port-side engine room.
The fire, which started just after 2pm on Monday, is the second fire to occur on the vessel this year after a smaller fire broke out in the battery room on January 29.
The MPV Everest, which is five days into a return journey from the east Antarctica after resupplying Australia’s Davis and Mawson research stations, was sailing to Hobart, but may need to divert to a closer port to assess the damage to one of its two engines.
The Australian Antarctic Division chartered the MPV Everest, which is owned by Luxembourg-based Maritime Construction Services and registered in the Bahamas, after construction of the permanent replacement to the Aurora Australis, the RSV Nuyina, was delayed.
Maritime Union of Australia Assistant National Secretary Jamie Newlyn accused the AAD of downplaying the seriousness of the most recent fire, saying it was lucky none of the crew were seriously injured.
“The Australian Antarctic Division is attempting to downplay the scale of this incident, but images taken by sheltering crew members show flames leaping above the vessel’s deck, engulfing part of the cargo area,” Mr Newlyn said.
“This was an extremely serious incident that has not only caused significant damage to one of the MPV Everest’s two engines, but resulted in the destruction of two smaller vessels stored on the deck.
“Thankfully, there are no reports of injuries among the 109 crew and expeditioners on board, but a fire of this scale on a vessel just days into a voyage from remote research stations in Antarctica is extremely alarming.”
MUA Tasmania Deputy Branch Secretary Alisha Bull said the incident highlighted the union’s repeated warnings to the AAD about the risk of using a foreign charter vessel rather than retaining the Aurora Australis for another year or utilising Australian seafarers with decades of experience in the harsh Antarctic environment.
“One fire might be bad luck, but two significant fires should ring alarm bells about the AAD decision to replace the Aurora Australis — with its proven track record — with a foreign charter vessel,” she said.
“The union repeatedly warned the AAD that the use of a charter vessel, crewed by foreign seafarers that lacked the experience of the Australians who safely operated the Aurora for decades, posed a significant safety risk to the Antarctic mission.
“The Federal Government also has serious questions to answer about their refusal to intervene, with the impact of that failure to become clearer once the MPV Everest reaches an Australian port and the extent of the damage from this latest fire becomes clearer.”
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