Australia’s fire-damaged Antarctic resupply ship has docked in Western Australia carrying expeditioners who haven’t seen home in more than a year.
The MPV Everest, sailing on auxiliary power after fire tore through its port side engine room on April 5, reached Fremantle Port on Tuesday afternoon.
The chartered ship was originally supposed to dock in Hobart but was diverted following the blaze, which destroyed two inflatable boats on deck.
None of the 109 people aboard, including about 70 expeditioners, were injured.
Some of the expeditioners have been in Antarctica for almost 18 months, well beyond their scheduled stay, after the pandemic played havoc with transport plans.
“When they left Australia, there was no COVID. They’re coming back to quite a different and changed world,” Australian Antarctic Division operations and safety manager, Charlton Clark, said this week.
A support ship was sent from Fremantle to rendezvous at sea on Tuesday with the Everest, which had taken a northerly route to dodge bad weather in the Southern Ocean.
The expeditioners have had flights out of Western Australia arranged for them over the next few days.
But the crew, who have operated the ship since October 2020, will have to remain on board or go into quarantine.
“While the expeditioners will be able to leave the vessel and go home to the support of friends and family, the crew will remain stuck in WA until the future of the damaged vessel is known,” the coordinator for the Australian branch of the International Transport Worker’s Federation, Ian Bray, said.
“We are extremely concerned that the crew will be isolated in quarantine or forced to remain on board the vessel, far from the help they need, adding to their serious mental anguish.”
The fire – which came four days into a two-week journey – is being investigated by the vessel’s Dutch owners, the Maritime Safety Authority and the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.
The Everest had been chartered for this summer’s resupply trips after the delivery of Australia’s new $529 million icebreaker RSV Nuyina was delayed due to COVID.
It had completed stops at the Davis and Mawson research stations in Antarctica.