Aurora Australis and Her Science Party Head Home
The Australian Antarctic Division reported Friday that the science party from the damaged icebreaker Aurora Australis will be retrieved by the Japanese icebreaker Shirase and taken to Australia's Casey Station.
The Shirase, operated by the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force for the Japanese Antarctic Research Expedition, is en route to Mawson station from South Africa and is expected to arrive over the weekend.
Up to 70 science party members will be transferred aboard and taken to Casey Station, a voyage of three to four days. From Casey they will be flown to Hobart on the Australian Antarctic Division’s Airbus A319, and are expected to arrive in Australia towards the middle of March, subject to weather conditions.
“The Australian Antarctic Division is very appreciative of this offer of assistance from the Japanese Government and the Japanese Antarctic Research Expedition,” said the Division's director, Dr. Nick Gales. “During what have been difficult circumstances, this offer of support once again demonstrates the nature of the Antarctic Treaty system and that nations are quick to provide support and logistical assistance where required.”
The Division made separate arrangements with American authorities to retrieve 30 scientists and science crew from Australia's Davis Station. The expeditioners were originally scheduled to be picked up by the Australis, but following her grounding, a U.S. aircraft was deployed to carry them to Casey Station instead. The Division's Airbus A319 flew them from Casey to Australia on March 2.
The Australis went aground at Mawson Station during a blizzard February 24 when the force of high winds parted her lines. Her crew discovered a hull breach in a normally full ballast tank the next day; her science party was transferred ashore before a successful refloat effort February 26.
A four-day survey of the vessel – verified by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority – was completed earlier this week, and found her to be seaworthy. As of March 2, she was under way for Australia with essential crew only on board.