The research and resupply vessel Aurora Australis departs Hobart today with an unusual piece of cargo — the Commonwealth Games Queen’s Relay Baton, the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Ian Campbell said today.

Australia’s Governor-General Major General Michael Jeffery, AC, CVO, MC (Retd) is today farewelling the Baton at a ceremony aboard Aurora Australis.

Senator Campbell said the Queen’s Baton was travelling to all 71 countries of the Commonwealth in what was the longest relay in the world.

“The Baton contains the latest digital, video and other communications technology that can transmit images of its location direct to the Commonwealth Games Melbourne 2006 website,” Senator Campbell said.

“This is a major coup — not just in facilitating the Baton on its first-ever adventure to the frozen continent, but it’s also an important way to further promote Australia’s Antarctic Programme.

“This year’s programme has begun well with two key scientific projects — Impact of Human Activities in Antarctica and Amery Ice Shelf Ocean Research — already underway.

“Scientists and support personnel for these projects were among those who sailed on the first Antarctic voyage of the season which left Hobart in October,” Senator Campbell said.

Senator Campbell said today’s voyage would carry scientists who will spend the summer on a range of research projects as well as expeditioners who will spend the next year at Casey station.

The Human Impacts programme, based at Australia’s Casey station, is using innovative new techniques to attempt the first full-scale on-site oil spill clean-up in Antarctica — a significant step in cleaning up past poor practices.

On the Amery Ice Shelf, inland from Davis station, scientists have begun retrieving vital information that will provide a greater understanding of global climate processes. By drilling boreholes through the ice they have access to the seabed and the ocean cavity beneath the floating shelf.

Aurora Australis is scheduled to leave Hobart at 5pm today and return to Australia in late December.