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Scale of onboard fire revealed as damaged Antarctic ship MPV Everest tries to avoid rough weather

The Guardian - Thu Apr 8 05:51

Captain heads for Fremantle at reduced speed after blaze engulfs supply ship’s port engine room and destroys two inflatable boats onboard

Dramatic images have revealed the scale of a fire that erupted on the Antarctic supply ship MPV Everest on Monday while the ship was days away from returning to Australia.

No one was injured but the captain changed course for the closest Australian port at Fremantle, Western Australia, after the fire engulfed the port engine room and destroyed two inflatable rubber boats stored on the deck.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau reported the fire started around 2pm on Monday, as the ship was en route from Mawson Station in the Australian Antarctic Territory to Hobart.

The ship’s crew had activated the port engine room’s water-mist fire suppression system and boundary-cooled the engine room, with the fire reported extinguished at around 5.40pm.

At the time of the fire, the ship was about 1,700 nautical miles south of Perth, and five days into a journey expected to last 14 days.

The MPV Everest on water
The MPV Everest. The fire that engulfed its port engine has left it able to move only at reduced speed. Photograph: Wade Maurer

The Australian Antarctic division’s general manager of operations and safety, Charlton Clark, said on Wednesday the MPV Everest was about 1,400 nautical miles south of Fremantle, “which is about five to seven days’ transit in good weather”.

“The vessel is currently running on the starboard engine room at about eight knots and is making headway to avoid some challenging Southern Ocean weather.”

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau has said it is launching an investigation into the fire, which has hobbled the ship, leaving it capable of moving only at reduced speeds.

The Australian Antarctic Division said in a statement that none of the 109 people onboard were harmed but that they were preparing to send two support vessels to accompany the ship back.

Clark said the ship was not in distress but that the supply of support vessels was a “precautionary measure”.

The MPV Everest’s deck after the blaze.
The MPV Everest’s deck after the blaze. Photograph: Australian Antarctic Program

“Both vessels are in Western Australia and are being assessed for their technical capabilities. For expeditioners on board, having a secondary vessel nearby will hopefully provide some reassurance.

“We are maintaining contact with the families of those on MPV Everest to keep them informed of the situation.”

The Dutch-based company Maritime Construction Services operates the ship, which had just completed a two-month voyage to Antarctica, where it resupplied Australia’s Davis and Mawson research stations.

The Maritime Union of Australia said the fire caused “significant damage” and it was lucky none of the crew weas injured.

“This was an extremely serious incident that has not only caused significant damage to one of the MPV Everest’s two engines, but resulted in the destruction of two smaller vessels stored on the deck,” the union’s assistant national secretary, Jamie Newlyn, said in a statement.

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

Damaged equipment on the MPV Everest after the fire
Damaged equipment on deck after the fire. Photograph: Australian Antarctic Program

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau classified the damage from the fire as “substantial”, listing it as a “serious incident”, and will produce a final report following its investigation.

Maritime Construction Services will also investigate the cause of the fire.

The Australian Antarctic Division reported that an issue with the ship’s generator was rectified after it was shut down for an hour.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority’s response centre said it was continuing to monitor the transit of the vessel and was in regular communication with its crew.