Australia is looking to its international peers including China for help after the nation’s icebreaker vessel ran aground and became stuck in Antarctica.
Carrying 68 expeditioners and crew, the Aurora Australis – owned by P&O and chartered by the Australian Antarctic Division – on Wednesday broke its moorings and got stuck on rocks during a resupply voyage to Mawson Station.
“We’re aware that the Chinese icebreaker the Xue Long has just left Casey research station … so is within a few days of the area so we’re in discussions with the Chinese among other national programs for options,” the division’s director Nick Gales told reporters on Thursday.
A blizzard including wind gusts of more than 170km/h pushed the vessel aground at West Arm in Horseshoe Harbour.
Conditions continue to prevent a proper assessment of the ship, which is listing slightly but considered watertight.
“There is certainly no evidence of any serious damage at this stage and (once) having assessed that damage we’re hopeful that we can back-load the passengers on board and continue on with our planned visit and back to Hobart,” Dr Gales said of the best-case scenario.
But the Division is bracing for the worst.
“There are other contingencies, there’s some good options, we’re looking at them now,” Dr Gales said.
“We’re in regular touch with the operators of the other national programs, so we’re looking at ship and aviation options.”
There has not yet been a request for assistance, but other countries have been put on standby.
All fuel and the majority of cargo had been unloaded when the ship ran aground.
Dr Gales said the incident was evidence of the unpredictable Antarctic environment.
“It is a dangerous environment, it changes a lot, incidents occur, so we do have a very mature process for dealing with things like this.”
The Division’s crisis-management response was activated immediately after the ship broke its moorings.
It was too early to say what impact the incident will have on the Aurora’s future operations, Dr Gales added.
The vessel had been due to travel to Davis Station in coming days, collect expeditioners and then return to Hobart in mid-March.
Its final voyage for the season was a resupply trip to Macquarie Island.