The support of programs in and around Antarctica requires a large and complex logistical effort. The 2002–03 shipping season involved seven voyages by the regular ‘work horses’ RSV Aurora Australis and MV Polar Bird; the use of the French program vessel L'Astrolabe to deploy and recover a heritage conservation team from Cape Denison, Commonwealth Bay; the charter of IB Kapitan Khlebnikov for an early voyage from South Africa to Mawson, Davis and Casey; and the use of berths on cruise ships and a fishing vessel to add flexibility to 'standard' shipping arrangements.
An ‘ANARE first’ saw the ship-to-ship transfer of fuel — from Polar Bird to Aurora Australis– a seven-hour, incident-free operation conducted while the vessels moored alongside each other in Horseshoe Harbour, Mawson. An 'ANARE last' saw Polar Bird make its final voyage for the Australian Antarctic Program – the end of season Casey summer retrieval during which the vessel distinguished itself by making its way to the anchorage on what was expected to be a fly-off operation. Polar Bird (Icebird) began its Australian Antarctic career in 1984.
While there were no significant variations from the published shipping schedule, the summer was not without challenges for the teams involved. The voyage out of South Africa, for example, involved tracking over a hundred expeditioners, their 2.5 tonnes of hand-carried excess baggage, and cargo and equipment airfreighted, railed and shipped to Cape Town from Australia, South America, Canada, Germany, USA and The Netherlands. Some of the wind turbine components delivered to Mawson on Polar Bird are believed to be the largest units of cargo ever unloaded at our stations. Two cat-eradication program dogs retrieved from the wilds of Macquarie Island were probably the most buoyant items transported.
On an administrative level, changes to Customs legislation necessitated accelerated progress towards a major re-engineering of the AAD’s cargo documentation systems to enable the generation of detailed information on the 15,000 plus different commodities packed to go south this summer by AAD Cargo Facility staff. In all, 2376 tonnes of dry cargo and 2119,500 litres of bulk fuel were delivered to Antarctica and Macquarie Island, and 778 tonnes of cargo were returned to Australia.
Squirrel AS350BA helicopters again proved their versatility and flew 926 hours in their seventeenth year of operation in Antarctica. Four summered on the continent, supporting camps at Rofe Glacier, Mt Stinear, Wilson Bluff, Cumpston Massif, Mawson Escarpment, and as far south as Komsomolskiy Peak (75°S). The aviation support of programs was not limited to the use of helicopters. A DHC-6 Twin Otter ferried from Calgary, Canada to Davis at the end of October, completed 475 hours flying in little more than three months on the continent, mainly in support of Australian and German scientists working in the southern Prince Charles Mountains. Experiencing good weather, the aircraft ably demonstrated the abilities of fixed wing aircraft to deploy, support and retrieve remote field parties.
Closer to home and at the end of the season, two helicopters and two LARCs were used to changeover personnel and resupply Macquarie Island. The retrieval of plateau huts at Tiobunga, Mt Eifel and Windy Ridge, and a coastal hut at Davis Point, was a significant achievement given the island’s testing flying conditions.
Logistics Group, AAD