Unvaccinated Crew on Antarctic Voyage Raises Concerns About Compliance and AAD Operations

Main image to the post Unvaccinated Crew on Antarctic Voyage Raises Concerns About Compliance and AAD Operations

Concerns Raised Over Unvaccinated Crew on Antarctic Voyage

In October 2023, a senior official at the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) sent a letter to Serco, the private operator of the RSV Nuyina, expressing concern that a majority of the ship's crew had not adhered to strict COVID vaccination rules for travel to Antarctica.

The AAD's official, Charlton Clark, stated in the letter that 19 crew members had not met the vaccination requirements, which included having a COVID vaccination, booster, or documented case of the virus within a specified timeframe. This timeframe was six months, or preferably three months, prior to departure at the time of the October voyage.

The AAD's stricter vaccination rules compared to the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) recommendations were implemented to mitigate the risk of COVID infection in Antarctica, where limited medical support necessitates costly and complex evacuations back to Australia for life-threatening conditions.

Despite the non-compliance, the AAD ultimately granted an exemption to ensure the Nuyina's resupply mission to Davis Station could proceed. The AAD stated that they take a risk-based approach and provide exemptions to achieve operational priorities when necessary.

Serco, in response, stated that their crew had consistently met ATAGI recommendations and continued to work with the AAD to maintain appropriate COVID-19 safety levels.

The incident has raised concerns among politicians and unions. Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson, who chaired a Senate inquiry into the AAD, expressed concern about the potential impact of non-compliance on the scientific and operational activities in Antarctica. He reiterated the inquiry's recommendation for an independent review of the AAD's operations and logistics branch, including its relationship with Serco.

Liberal Senator Jonathon Duniam also expressed concern and emphasized the importance of taking precautions when visiting Antarctica.

The Community and Public Sector Union attributed the issue to the outsourcing of the Nuyina's operation to a private company, highlighting the potential for non-compliance with government directives.

The Australian Institute of Marine and Power Engineers (AIMPE) supported the rights of crew members to adhere to the same vaccination standards as other Australians, acknowledging that Serco could not compel crew members to exceed ATAGI standards.

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May 21, 2023 | 05:09