The ship arrived as an ocean security research fellow said Australia is unable to protect its sovereignty in Antarctic waters. Dr Sam Bateman, a retired Navy Commodore and Fellow at the Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security, said the large Australian waters in the Southern Ocean were increasingly being targeted by illegal fishing.
He said Australia was also unable to respond to search and rescue obligations, which were becoming more frequent due to increased fi shing and cruise ship activity.
“Both these requirements, I see, are going to increase quite significantly in the years ahead,” he said.
“We’ve had a number of incidents already this year where Australia actually couldn’t do anything, despite the fact we had the primary obligation to respond.”
Earlier in February, when the disabled Tasmanian fishing ship the Antarctic Chieftan became trapped in ice northeast of Antarctica’s McMurdo Sound, it was a US Coast Guard vessel that went to her rescue.
Dr Bateman said a New Zealand naval patrol vessel responded to three foreign boats fishing illegally in Australia’s Economic Exclusion Zone (EEZ) in January. Australia detected the boats by aerial patrol.
Dr Bateman said Hobart would be a logical place to base an ice class offshore patrol vessel. “If it was a naval vessel, its home port would probably be in one of the major dockyards, say in Sydney,” he said.
“But Hobart would certainly be a logical forward-operating base for such a vessel. When it was undertaking regular operations in the Southern Ocean and Antarctica, it wouldn’t be going back to Sydney all the time, it could operate out of Hobart.”
The government has allocated funding for a new icebreaker to replace the ageing Aurora Australis, the tender process for which was due to close at the end of February. Plans for the new Antarctic icebreaker were dealt a blow when one of two competing shipping companies pulled out of the longrunning tender process. P&O Maritime, which operates the Aurora Australis, abandoned the project after three years of work, blaming what is says was an unusual procurement process.