Australian Bushfire Crisis Prompts Petition for Icebreaker Repurposing

Aurora Australis
Aurora Australis

Published Feb 8, 2020 8:49 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) has launched a petition calling on the Australian government to purchase the Aurora Australis – the multi-purpose research and resupply ship soon to be retired from service with the Australian Antarctic Division – for use as an emergency response vessel during natural disasters.

Over the past five months, Australia has experienced unprecedented bushfires. Throughout the crisis, naval and civilian vessels have provided vital support to isolated communities, delivering food, water, fuel and other relief supplies, assisting with evacuations and transporting defense equipment and personal.

The launch of the MUA petition follows a proposal from the Australian Labor Party calling on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to acquire the Aurora Australis and develop Australia’s civilian maritime emergency response capacity to respond to future bushfire crises and other natural disasters including floods and cyclones.

The MUA says the Aurora Australis is the perfect vessel for emergency response. It's features include:

• Ability to transport over a million liters of fuel
• A functional hospital
• A radio room that could restore communication temporarily
• A helicopter Pad and refuelling station
• Accommodation for 109 people as well as crew 
• Water making capability
• Storage capacity for emergency equipment, clothes or non perishable food

To build a new ship with this capacity would cost hundreds of millions of dollars, yet Australia has the opportunity to purchase the Aurora Australis for a fraction of the cost, says the MUA.

Leader of the Seafarers’ International Union and ITF Seafarers’ Section chair, Dave Heindel, recently highlighted the vital role of the U.S. merchant marine in disaster response. “In America, our domestic fleet is an important part of the national maritime infrastructure that can be made available at a moment’s notice in times of national emergency.”