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Published: 11 Jun 2020
Photo Aurora Australis in Hobart by Barry Becker
The Maritime Union of Australia is demanding the Federal Government urgently act to purchase the iconic Aurora Australis icebreaker following reports the flagship icebreaker of the Australian Antarctic Division could be sold for scrap metal within weeks by owner P&O Maritime.
Affectionately known as the “Orange Roughy”, the Newcastle-built icebreaker has been the backbone of Australia’s Antarctic research efforts for 31 years, with the union saying that the ship still has many years of useful service in it, ideally as a specialist emergency relief and rescue vessel.
With the capacity to carry and transfer nearly two million litres of fuel, a functional hospital, desalination equipment, helicopter facilities, and extensive storage for food, clothing and emergency equipment, the Aurora comes ready-made with the ability to deliver emergency assistance to coastal communities.
Maritime Union of Australia Assistant National Secretary Ian Bray, who spent two decades as a merchant seafarer including several years on the Aurora Australis, said summer’s bushfire emergency highlighted the importance of a dedicated vessel able to reach communities cut off by natural disasters.
“It would be a national disgrace if this iconic vessel, the backbone of Australian Antarctic research for three decades, is sold off to be cut up as scrap metal,” Mr Bray said.
“While the Aurora may have completed its Antarctic service, the vessel is still in good condition and capable of many more years of service to the country.
“For less than $10 million, the Federal Government could purchase the Aurora from P&O Maritime, undertake the modifications required to convert it to an emergency response and relief vessel, and have it available to support coast communities cut off by fires, cyclones, floods, and other natural disasters.”
Mr Bray said by purchasing the Aurora, the Federal Government would also ensure an icebreaker remained available if the arrival of the replacement RSV Nuyina was delayed, as well as securing the vessel as a centrepiece for a future museum highlighting Australian scientific efforts in Antarctica.
“Building a new specialist emergency vessel would be extremely expensive, but the Federal Government has an opportunity to acquire a vessel perfectly suited to the task with proven capability and reliability at a bargain price,” he said.
“For an absolute bargain price the Australian community would not only secure this vessel for posterity, it would gain a vital maritime resource that has proven itself time and again in the toughest environment on earth.
“By taking ownership of the Aurora, the Federal Government would ensure there remained a backup for the Australian Antarctic Division, it would add an unprecedented maritime emergency response capacity for communities isolated by natural disasters, and would guarantee the vessel is retained as a museum drawcard following its eventual retirement.”
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