Ships to the rescue in fire-ravaged Australian townships

Australian seafarers providing bushfire support. Credit: Zoe Reynolds

Australian ships and seafarers have played a key role in the bushfire crisis – foremost the Norwegian-flagged Far Saracen, on hire to Esso in the Bass Strait.

With land and air connections cut, Victorian emergency co-ordinators called on Esso for assistance.

Before the Australian Navy arrived to evacuate people huddled on the beach in the coastal community of Mallacoota as it became encircled by fire, the offshore supply vessel came alongside. The Far Saracen crew provided medical care, diesel to replenish the local fire trucks, food, and water. Seafarers also provided a donation to a wildlife rescue service.

Far Saracen was on site at Mallacoota for a week beginning 31 December.

Angela Gillham, vice-chair of Maritime Industry Australia, said that the Australian shipping industry also gave a nod to a broad range of other maritime assets. Other vessels are on standby.

The union covering ships’ crews were also proud of the maritime fire effort. “Australian and Kiwi [New Zealand] seafarers were the first on the scene [in Mallacoota] with much-needed supplies of food, water, and diesel,” said Maritime Union of Australia national secretary Paddy Crumlin.

“While the federal government was resisting calls to activate the Australia’s Defence Forces, our seafarers were able to get those supplies to Mallacoota a full 24 hours before the first naval vessel arrived in the area.”

Crumlin stressed the vital role shipping plays in times of crisis. “The civilian crew of the training vessel MV Sycamore and the supply vessel Far Senator and the SeaLink Kangaroo Island Ferries are also doing their bit to back up our firefighters and bring relief to those stranded by fire,” he said.

Western Australia was cut off from the rest of the country because fire had closed the highway across the Nullarbor. Shipping would be needed to maintain supply links until road transport could get through, he added.

Mallacoota could remain cut off from the rest of Victoria by land for several weeks before the Princes Highway linking the town reopens, police told local media.