ANTARCTIC supply vessel MPV Everest docked in Fremantle port for repairs on Tuesday after a dramatic on-board fire brought its latest voyage to an unexpected end.
The ship had been en route to Hobart when the fire broke out in the engine room and forced it to limp towards the nearest port on only one of its two engines.
The icebreaker was returning from a two-month, 12,000km voyage to the Davis and Mawson research stations in East Antarctica where it dropped essential supplies and exchanged expeditioners completing research.
A range of investigations are being conducted into the cause of the fire by the ship’s owners Maritime Construction Services as well as Australian Safety Management Authority. No one on board was injured.
Australian Antarctic Division general manager Charlton Clarke said investigations will “be looking at all aspects of the operations of the vessel … to make the vessel safer”.
The Everest will remain in Fremantle Port until the investigations are complete.
All 37 crew members and 72 expeditioners were exempt from quarantine after the McGowan government decided Antarctica and a two-month journey through the lonely Southern Ocean were probably sufficient iso in themselves. Surprisingly, Antarctica lost its Covid-free status in December when 36 Chileans at the Bernardo O’Higgins research station tested positive – thankfully for the Aussie’s it’s a handy 5000km gap between their stations and the Chileans’.
Some expeditioners aboard the Everest only expected to be in Antarctica for 12 months, but transport problems caused by Covid-19 saw their stay extended to 18 months.
Davis Station leader and returning expeditioner David Knoff said it was not an easy experience being away for so long, especially during the pandemic.
“Watching the pandemic unfold back home, that was challenging,” Mr Knoff said.
“That was two birthdays, two Christmases, two New Year’s.”
Mawson Station leader Matt Williams said any venture to Antarctica is an “expedition into the unknown” but despite the challenges faced on the voyage described the experience as “amazing”.
The crew will assist with restocking of the ship’s supplies and any maintenance required before returning home to reunite with their families.
by LILLI SCOTT