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Australia Alarm raised over possible overseas sale of the retiring Aurora Australis icebreaker

10:16  27 june  2020
10:16  27 june  2020 Source:   abc.net.au

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The Aurora Australis left Hobart in Tasmania on 11 January and carried out marine science research around the Kerguelen Plateau, a submerged continent that extends for 2,200km (1 Image copyright Australian Antarctic Division. Image caption The Aurora Australis is Australia's flagship icebreaker .

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a ship on the water with smoke coming out of it: Expeditioners hold up flares to farewell the Aurora Australis, as it departs Mawson research station. (AAD: Matt Williams) © Provided by ABC NEWS Expeditioners hold up flares to farewell the Aurora Australis, as it departs Mawson research station. (AAD: Matt Williams)

There are concerns Australia's outgoing Antarctic icebreaker vessel Aurora Australis has been sold to the Argentinian Government.

Tasmanian independent MP Andrew Wilkie has written a letter to the Arts Minister Paul Fletcher, after the alarm was raised by Antarctic enthusiasts.

The enthusiasts are behind the Aurora Australis Foundation, and say they were contacted by an Argentinian supporter on social media.

News of the sale to the South American country prompted Tasmanian independent MP Andrew Wilkie to issue a plea to Arts Minister Paul Fletcher to order its retention here for further heritage assessment.

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Crew on the Chinese icebreaker Xue Long are concerned about 'their ability to move through heavy ice in the area'.

A member of an Indian research team in Antarctica captured multiple clips of timelapse footage featuring aurora australis over a number of months in 2019. Bhaskar Sarkar was a chief medical officer on the 38th Indian Scientific Expedition that was stationed at the Bharati research station on

"I've pleaded to the Minister to invoke the Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act, and order that the Aurora Australis remain in Australia until there can be a full heritage assessment," he said.

"The fact is for all of us that have lived in Hobart for a long time that the Aurora Australis helps to define our sense of place, you know there's the mountain, there's the river, and there's the Aurora Australis for much of the year.

"When I say to people it looks like the Aurora Australis will be gone for good it brings some people almost to tears," he said.

"People are very, very fond of this vessel."

It is unclear how much the Argentinian Government would have paid the ship's owner P&O, but Mr Wilkie anticipates "it won't have been much".

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Aurora australis (also known as the southern lights, and southern polar lights) is the southern hemisphere counterpart to the aurora borealis. Like its northern sibling, the aurora australis is strongest in an oval centered on the south magnetic pole.

It's a familiar site on Hobart's River Derwent, but the Aurora Australis is officially winding down to retirement . Australia's icebreaker has departed

"Until this point in time P&O were actively considering scrapping the vessel, in other words a million dollars, a couple of million dollars, it won't be very very much at all."

Mr Wilkie is calling on the Tasmanian Government to help keep the icebreaker in the state permanently.

"Of course the Federal Government can't do this alone, it can invoke the Movable Heritage Act, but really this is a matter for the State Government to see the sense in this, to see the sense in Tasmania really realising our potential," he said.

"We're a maritime state, we are intimately involved in the Antarctic program in the southern oceans, and people come to Hobart wanting to see this sort of stuff."

A Tasmanian Government spokesperson said the potential sale was a matter for the vessel's owner.

"As Mr Wilkie knows, the future of the icebreaker is a matter for P&O Maritime," the statement said.

A spokesperson for P&O says they have received a number of expressions of interest about potentially purchasing the vessel.

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Australia's icebreaker Aurora Australis has run aground near Mawson Station while on a mission to resupply the Antarctic outpost. AAD officials said there were a total of 67 expeditioners and crew on board at the time of the incident but no-one was injured.

An officer on Australia’s flagship Antarctic icebreaker , the Aurora Australis , was asked by bosses to remove a social media post showing her on deck with a banner critical of Scott Morrison’s climate The choice is clear – end dependence on fossil fuels or face Climate Catastrophe, ‘Coal or Ice ’.”

"P&O Maritime Logistics has been approached by a number of interested parties from around the world," the spokesperson said.

The Federal Government has been contacted for comment.

Aurora Australis Foundation's Dr Melanie Van Twest said her group was alerted to an announcement that a sale to Argentina was imminent.

"[An Argentinian man] identified an announcement in an Argentinian magazine that its Government is about to buy the Aurora Australis for use within its Antarctic program," she said.

The foundation had been pushing for the decommissioned icebreaker to remain in Tasmania, and become a floating museum celebrating Australia's maritime heritage.

"While of course we are pleased on one level to know the Aurora Australis potentially has more of a service life in front of her in Antarctica, we became very concerned that this ship that means a great deal to Australia never to be seen again," Dr Van Twest said.

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