Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Second Fire Gives Ammunition to Union Set Against Foreign Flagged Vessels

National Interest Project Should Employ Resident Citizens Says MUA
Shipping News Feature

AUSTRALIA – ANTARCTICA – The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) has made no secret to its strong opposition to the chartering by the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) of the supply ship MPV Everest, which is owned by Luxembourg-based Maritime Construction Services  (MCS) and registered in the Bahamas, placing the operation's management in foreign hands.

The crux of the union’s argument is two pronged, firstly that a national interest offering employment, such as the Antarctic work should essentially be held entirely within the country, and secondly that the standards aboard the incumbent vessel, employed when construction of the permanent replacement to the Aurora Australis, the RSV Nuyina, was delayed, are simply too low.

Now the MUA reports that a serious fire on board the vessel MPV Everest has caused significant damage, with flames engulfing cargo on the deck after escaping the port-side engine room. The fire, which started just after 2pm on Monday, is the second fire to occur on the vessel this year after a smaller fire broke out in the battery room on January 29. MUA Assistant National Secretary Jamie Newlyn accused the AAD of downplaying the seriousness of the most recent fire, saying it was lucky none of the crew were seriously injured, saying:

“The Australian Antarctic Division is attempting to downplay the scale of this incident, but images taken by sheltering crew members show flames leaping above the vessel’s deck, engulfing part of the cargo area. This was an extremely serious incident that has not only caused significant damage to one of the MPV Everests two engines, but resulted in the destruction of two smaller vessels stored on the deck.

“Thankfully, there are no reports of injuries among the 109 crew and expeditioners on board, but a fire of this scale on a vessel just days into a voyage from remote research stations in Antarctica is extremely alarming.”

Fires are in fact not the only complaint the MUA has raised over the employment of foreign staff. In December we reported an outbreak of Covid-19 at a Chilean Antarctic research facility, the first such on the continent, in that case the supply ship visiting the base saw three crew struck down by the virus, giving the MUA cause to reinforce its concerns.

With regard to this latest event MUA Tasmania Deputy Branch Secretary Alisha Bull said the incident highlighted the union’s repeated warnings to the AAD about the risk of using a foreign charter vessel rather than retaining the Aurora Australis for another year or utilising Australian seafarers with decades of experience in the harsh Antarctic environment, commenting:

“One fire might be bad luck, but two significant fires should ring alarm bells about the AAD decision to replace the Aurora Australis, with its proven track record, with a foreign charter vessel. The union repeatedly warned the AAD that the use of a charter vessel, crewed by foreign seafarers that lacked the experience of the Australians who safely operated the Aurora for decades, posed a significant safety risk to the Antarctic mission.

”The Federal Government also has serious questions to answer about their refusal to intervene, with the impact of that failure to become clearer once the MPV Everest reaches an Australian port and the extent of the damage from this latest fire becomes clearer.”

Photo:The latest fire aboard the MPV Everest shows the seriousness of the situation.