RAN to Set Sail for Subantarctic Wilderness

Thirty-one trainees from various categories of employment within the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) have been kitted-up with extreme weather protection gear for their upcoming Antarctic trip-of-a-lifetime.

The group, which includes Marine Technicians, Medics, and Communications Information Systems sailors under-training, ten General Experience ‘Gap Year’ sailors, and their supervisors, are preparing to sail on the RAN leased P&O icebreaker the RSV Aurora Australis to Macquarie Island, located in the subantarctic region, north of the Antarctic continent.

The Aurora Australis will depart for its voyage to the world heritage listed island this week to embark a group of Australian Antarctic Division employees who have been stationed in the subantarctic wonderland to carry out pest eradication activities.

The RAN personnel making the voyage were given polar survival kits by the Australian Antarctic Division which included Gore-Tex outer-layers, polar fleece mid-layers and thermal undergarments.

Richard Knowles, a Logistics Expert with the Australian Antarctic Division, said the gear will protect the Officers and Sailors from Macquarie Island’s unpredictable and often extreme conditions.

“It’s a cold place, and it’s a wet place, and they will need to use the layering principal to keep themselves dry.”

“If they don’t stay warm in the subantarctic climate they could be subject to hyperthermia,” said Mr Knowles.

The deployment will offer the Navy’s embarked trainees an opportunity to serve in weather and oceanic conditions rarely experienced by their colleagues. The group will work alongside P&O’s regular crew to gain some competencies required to qualify in their various employment categories.

SBLT Christopher Thornton, a Training Systems Officer embarked in Aurora Australis for the voyage, says working with civilians in their respective trades will give the trainees a well rounded understanding of their chosen professions.

“We will have marine technicians working in the engine room alongside civilian engineers, and trainees spending time at the helm and taking fixes on the bridge, and our medics will have exposure to polar medicine,” said SBLT Thornton.

“This voyage really will equip the trainees with the skills to deal with real life scenarios, in adverse and extreme weather conditions.”

The Officer in Charge of the Macquarie Island voyage, LCDR Tony Paterson, said sailing beyond 45 degrees south is a rare experience for anyone in the Navy. “Very few of us, in the Navy, ever get a chance to go much further south than the bottom of Tasmania, unless we have to rescue someone,” said LCDR Paterson. “So the experience will give our people an understanding of what it’s like to go this far south and work in these extreme weather conditions, and at the same time they’ll hopefully see animals in their native state that we very, very, rarely see.”

Richard Knowles, who has made numerous expeditions to Macquarie Island, agreed that the trainees were embarking on the trip of a lifetime. “Macquarie Island is an amazing place to go to,” said Mr Knowles. “The flora and fauna is quite exceptional. They can see elephant seals, a whole range of penguins, and albatross. They might even see some orcas if they’re lucky.”

The RAN and the Australian Antarctic division are both celebrating 100-year milestones this year with 2011 marking a century since the Navy was granted the “Royal” prefix in its title, and 100 years since the explorer Sir Douglas Mawson first sailed for Macquarie Island.

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Source: navy, July 19, 2011;

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