Serious COVID, environmental and labour rights concerns plague Australian Antarctic Division replacement vessel

Published: 30 Nov 2020

Seafarers are warning of significant COVID, environmental and employment issues on-board the icebreaker contracted by the Australian Antarctic Division for this summer following the retirement of the iconic Aurora Australis.

The warnings come as it was revealed the MPV Everest, which was contracted for this summer after construction delays prevented the arrival of the Aurora’s permanent replacement vessel the RSV Nuyina, would be crewed by foreign seafarers who have never worked in the Australian Antarctic Territory.

The Maritime Union of Australia said the need to keep the Antarctic mission COVID free was being unnecessarily jeopardised through the use of foreign seafarers, particularly as the Australian crew from the Aurora — with decades of experience in Antarctica — could have been used.

The union also warned that the use of foreign seafarers with no Antarctic experience posed a risk to the pristine and sensitive environment, while also reducing the overall safety of the scientific mission.

“The Australian Antarctic Division has serious questions to answer about why they have chosen to use foreign seafarers who lack the extensive experience of Australian seafarers operating in the unique and challenging conditions of Antarctica,” MUA Assistant National Secretary Ian Bray said.

“Especially during the COVID crisis, when this virus is running rampant in much of the world, the use of foreign seafarers poses an unnecessary biosecurity risk to the entire mission.

“The Federal Government should be insisting the AAD utilise Australian seafarers who have worked on the Aurora, given their proven track record of safety and environmental protection.

“We fear the choice to use foreign workers is a financial one, with the AAD putting safety and the environment at risk in an effort to avoid Australian employment laws, wages and employment standards.”

MUA Tasmania Branch Secretary Jason Campbell said the AAD should have immediately looked to employ experienced Australian seafarers for this summer once it learnt of construction delays facing the Aurora’s replacement vessel the Nuyina.

“As soon as the AAD became aware of the major delays to construction of the Nuyina, which meant it would not be delivered on time to carry out shipping tasks in Antarctica this summer, they should have looked to contract the
Aurora for another summer,” Mr Campbell said.

“Failing that, they should have secured the use of the crew from the Aurora, given these Australian seafarers have the necessary experience and continuity of service in Antarctica to ensure a safe and successful mission.

“At a time when COVID has resulted in massive job losses around the country, the AAD should be prioritising the employment of Australians in the Marine Science Program.

“The Federal Government has serious questions to answer about why it approved the use of a foreign crewed vessel when an Australian crewed vessel, the Aurora Australia, would have been available.”


Authorised by P Crumlin, Maritime Union of Australia, Sydney