Resupply at Casey station started a little earlier than expected this year with the Aurora Australis breaking through the pack ice at a great rate of knots, and arriving more than a day ahead of schedule. Nevertheless, the Casey crew were ready and up for the logistical challenge of unloading a year’s worth of food, infrastructure supplies and fuel over the water from the Aurora anchored in Newcomb Bay.
In close coordination with the Aurora and with crews stationed both at the wharf and station side, shipping containers and plant were craned onto a barge, transported across the bay and lifted ashore at Casey wharf. Once on land, the logistics chain transitioned from a Mack truck and skid steer loader to a dedicated crew at the Greenstore (Casey warehouse) for further handling. With ‘troops rallied’ from all corners of the station, temperature sensitive priority cargo, such as food and scientific equipment, was unpacked and stored away safely, or hurried off to eager science teams awaiting to start project work.
However, as it goes in Antarctica, it was not all ‘smooth sailing’ and the weather did not always ‘play ball’. With the wind picking up, exceeding safe loading and barge operations limits, Aurora departed the bay for open waters more than once, to the disappointment of resupply crews. When the ship returned for its final time, so did some glorious weather, so with clear skies and light winds it was decided to start the over-water refueling operation.
Refueling is one of the year’s major operations. It means pumping thousands of litres of SAB fuel (Special Antarctic Blend) in a pipeline across the water to tanks on station, in one of the most pristine environments in the world.
The operation is carefully planned and set up, with a hose attached to floats reeled from the Aurora across the bay to tanks in a lower fuel farm at the wharf. A hose then run across snow and ice to tanks at an upper fuel farm located at station. In total, nearly 2 km of hose is used for this transfer.
With equipment set up and multiple checks conducted by the refueling team, pumping was started. Again, with all hands on deck, a four-hour-on, eight-hour-off refueling roster was started. This involved a majority of Casey expeditioners in boats to ensure the fuel line remained ice free, line monitors to cruise along the fuel line to carefully monitor for the smallest leaks, and the tank and valve team. After nearly 32 hours of pumping, ‘the pig’ was launched to clear the line to the joy of the weary expeditioners and Aurora refueling crew.
With refueling completed, the final cargo was off-loaded and RTA (Return to Australia) cargo loaded on to the Aurora, just in time for the weather to turn sour again. So with grey skies and a 30 knot wind at its stern, the Aurora Australis steamed out of Newcomb Bay and away from Casey station for the last time in 2018. After fourteen days with over 550 tonnes of cargo unloaded and approximately 970,000 litres of fuel delivered to station, resupply was over — as the result of great work by all involved!
It was then time to rest, relax and enjoy a belated but extraordinary Christmas day feast.
Amy Hobbs & Doreen McCurdy