Any fire on board a vessel is a major incident, regardless of the location of the vessel. However, most vessels are not navigating in the Antarctic regions of our oceans and are not many days from rescue, unlike the MPV EVEREST who found herself requiring assistance in one of the most isolated areas of navigable water on Earth.
The Maritime Union of Australia has quite rightly raised concerns about the lack of a contingency plan for incidents such as these. Although it would not be reasonable to have a chartered vessel on permanent standby "just in case" it could, fairly, be deemed reasonable to have a support vessel on standby when the icebreaker is in transit to/from Antarctica. This is certainly something the Australian Antarctic Division will need to closely review ahead of their next operation.
With the changing climate, commercial shipping is able to reach ever more extreme areas, with the Arctic region in particular being looked at as a way of reducing transit times for vessels. A key issue with trading in these areas is the question of what happens when something goes wrong?
Getting out to distressed vessels can be difficult even in benign conditions, getting out to a distressed vessel in the extreme environments of the poles adds a whole new issue to the problem. There is a very limited availability of search and rescue capabilities in the polar regions and this must be taken into account by both owners and insurers when considering operations in these geographic areas.
This is another example of supply and demand being the key. Without commercial shipping there is no need to have rescue services available but without the rescue services it may not be safe to send commercial vessels to navigate those areas without extra precautions being taken.
It will be for the owners and insurers to look at the risk management balance of shorter and potentially more fuel efficient routes when weighed against the risk of navigating in these new geographical areas and potential costs incurred.