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Svitzer Marine Engineer’s skills match needs for Kangaroo Island bushfire response

Dion Whittle

Kangaroo Island, January 2020

When bushfires devastated pristine Kangaroo Island in January 2020, Svitzer Marine Engineer, Dion Whittle, was on hand with the right skills and quals to provide much needed assistance.

Ferry services operated by Sealink to and from the island ran extended hours to move essential supplies and emergency services, including rural fire services and the army, to the impacted area quickly.

As the ferry services were running 18-24 hours per day, additional crew to keep the services running were required.

Marine Engineer Dion Whittle from Svitzer’s Port Pirie operations in South Australia was able to help by accessing emergency services leave, offered by Svitzer.

As a previous employee of Sealink, and with relevant qualifications as a marine engineer, Dion stepped in to provide essential fatigue relief to crew operating the ferry service.

On behalf of Svitzer, thank you, Dion for providing practical and responsive support to the bushfire relief. 

Get to know Dion, and his work with the fire effort

What is your role with Svitzer? How long have you been in the industry and with Svitzer?

I have been working with Svitzer for about 18 months in a casual role and now as a full time Engineer in Port Pirie. I have been involved in the marine industry for around 15 years in a variety of roles around engineering.

How did you get involved with the relief effort for Kangaroo Island?

The idea to assist the Kangaroo Island ferry service Sealink all came around very quick with the severity of the recent catastrophic fire. My ability to leave while currently on roster and be covered was as simple as a phone call to Tully Barnes followed by an email and Adelaide office did the rest. Good work team!

I got involved to assist the ferry by Sealink, Kanagaroo Island ferry operator, management calling on all crew past and present that could assist in some way. Before starting with Svitzer I was a Chief Engineer for Sealink on the Sealion 2000 for seven years.

This was a complex situation that the company had not experienced to this level before with the size of the fire and the length of time it burnt.

The ferries were required to do extra trips from mainland Cape Jervis to Kangaroo Island Penneshaw to accommodate the emergency services.

My role was simply to give some of the full-time crew relief and to manage their fatigue while being able to keep the ferry service continuing with the extended trips 18-24 hours a day.

What is your role and capacity with the relief and emergency response for Kangaroo Island?

I was simply providing a fatigue management option for the ferry to assure it ran safely and legally and continued to run with the extended service.

What has been your experience in assisting with the effort? What is going on more broadly with the support and response?

This is a unique situation as the ferry is an extension of the main highway to link mainland to the Island. This means all freight, vehicles and passengers use this link.

All emergency service vehicles and personnel had to board the ferry to gain access to the Island and fire, which also included the Army and its machinery.

There was also a water shortage on the island as the fire contaminated much of its natural water supply this meant that water had to be trucked over every day.
Diesel and aviation fuel were also in short supply with all the extra appliances assisting with fighting the fire, so this required more dangerous goods services to be added daily.

Would you encourage colleagues to get involved? For those not directly involved, do you have some suggestions as to what would be most helpful for the regions affected by the bushfires?

I would always encourage colleagues to get involved in some form. It doesn’t always have to be at the coalface of the catastrophic event to be doing something proactive and assist.

The devastation across the whole country is going to take a massive effort in cleaning up and getting those families back on their feet that have lost everything.

I encourage people to donate or get around a local fundraiser to support as all is appreciated.