Fire-Damaged Antarctic Resupply Vessel Docks in Fremantle
Australia’s Antarctic resupply ship reached Fremantle today a week after a fire disabled one of the vessel’s two engine rooms. The MPV Everest docked in Western Australia at approximately 5:30 p.m. local time after completing a nearly 1,700 nautical mile voyage at reduced speed.
The Australian Antarctic Department reported that the 109 expeditioners, some of whom had been in the Antarctic for up to 18 months, and the crew were all safe but cautioned that arrival processing and disembarkation would require several hours before they would be permitted to come ashore. The organization said that a new conference would be conducted on Wednesday with AAD’s leaders and members of the expedition.
The International Transport Workers’ Federation at the same time issued a statement calling on the Western Australia Government and maritime safety agencies to permit the crew of the MPV Everest and the expeditioners to immediately return to their homes to reunite with families and seek any support that they might require after their ordeals. The ITF is asking that they be given special consideration and not be placed in COVID-19 related quarantine.
The incident began on April 5 after the Antarctic resupply ship had departed Antarctica after a two-month resupply voyage to Australia’s Davis and Mawson research stations in east Antarctica. The crew had a challenging situation in Antarctica where thick sea ice forced them to conduct the resupply by helicopters along with the exchange of staff for the stations. Some of the expeditioners had extended stays at the stations due to the COVID-19 pandemic which limited the ability to move staff as scheduled.
The vessel departed on April 1 for a return trip planned to sail to Hobart on Tasmania. However, four days later, a fire broke out in the vessel’s port side engine room. At the peak of the fire, flames were also seen shooting out of the air vents onto the deck of the vessel where some of the stored gear was also destroyed. The fire suppression system extinguished the fire with no reported injuries to the crew or Antarctic staff that was aboard.
The vessel resumed its voyage to Australia, but the captain decided to divert to the closer port of Fremantle at a reduced speed of 9 to 10 knots. The following day the MPV Everest was also forced to briefly stop while the crew made repairs on the generator in the starboard engine room.
The Australian authorities announced that they would be conducting a full investigation into the fire. The Dutch vessel was operating on charter to Australia after the previous vessel used for supply missions was retired after 30 years of service. The construction schedule for a new replacement vessel was delayed by the pandemic creating the need for a temporary replacement.