It’s hard to find a more remote and difficult search area. It’s tough down south, as David Carter, CEO of Austral Fisheries knows too well. He’s been heading down to Heard Island, 4000km south-west of Perth, deep within the Antarctic Circle, since 1997 to catch Patagonian toothfish.
He calls the search area “a long way from nowhere”. Of course the ships can cope – the 60m Austral Leader II is currently fishing off Heard Island – but he says the biggest enemy for anyone down that way is the remoteness.
Of course the Royal Australian Navy is brilliant at search and rescue in the region, as they’ve shown time and time again, including the seemingly impossible 1997 rescues of sailors Tony Bullimore and Thierry Dubois, plus Yann Elies, a year later, and before that, Isabelle Autissier in 1995.
Carter says you’re just hitting the Roaring 40s in the current search area and unlike further south, the water is a comparatively mild 12°C, although he warns survival time for anyone immersed is limited.
Reports says the conditions are reasonably good at the moment and Carter says that at the end of summer the weather is “probably not that bad this time of year, a bit benign”, yet you can still get “pretty vigorous storms”: up to force 8 or 9, with 6-to-8-metre swells and seas on top of that.
How bad is that?
Well, hang on and have a look:
Here’s the pride of New Zealand’s Navy, the 85-metre HMNZS Wellington, during trials down there in the summer of 2011.
And here’s Australia’s Antarctic vessel, the 95-metre Aurora Australis, on a nice summer cruise in 2007.
And here’s what it’s like for the Austral Fisheries blokes on a normal day at the office.
May those involved in the search stay safe.