The Saracen off Mallacoota

Article by Sarah Farnsworth at ABC News Australia

As smoke lay thick and heavy across Mallacoota, an unfamiliar vessel came slowly into view.

Key points

It was much larger than the fishing boats and yachts usually in the area and it was not the much-anticipated Navy.

On New Year’s Eve, without fanfare, the Norwegian-flagged supply vessel Far Saracen arrived at Mallacoota answering an SOS call from Victoria’s emergency services.

Its crew of 14 Australian and Kiwi seafarers were the first to reach the town via the water.

They brought much-needed supplies to the thousands of locals and tourists huddled on the beach sheltering from the fire wreaking havoc on the town.

Bringing 30 pallets of food, water and — with the power to the town cut — much-needed diesel for generators and CFA tankers, it was there to help.

“They arrived on scene days before the other services with a crew of 14 Aussie and Kiwi sailors,” said Chris Nairey, in a post on Facebook.

It was another day before the defence force arrived to begin one of Australia’s largest peace-time evacuations.

The vessel, usually used to deliver cargo to gas and oil drilling platforms, had been redirected from the Esso gas fields at Golden Beach.

It was one of two boats the gas company sent in response to the unfolding natural disaster.

Supplies were taken ashore before the Far Saracen became a temporary home for the most vulnerable until the Navy arrived.

“They worked tirelessly looking after sick people, the elderly, infants, even special needs teenagers,” said Mr Nairey. Chris Nairey, a Victorian police officer, was also helping those who were stranded, spending a week on the boat. He said the crew “worked around the clock to keep us going”.

“They fed us, they gave us beds,” said Mr Nairey.

They maintained our [police] boats and kept an eye on them while we slept.

“This was the most organised and professional workplace that I have ever seen.”

Mr Nairey, who is not a fan of social media, said he put up the rare social media post to ensure the captain and the crew’s work did not go unnoticed.

“Their family and friends need to know how good they are at what they do and what they have done for the town of Mallacoota,” he said.

The Maritime Union of Australia said the crew of the Far Saracen also made a large donation to the Mallacoota Wildlife Centre to help with the recovery effort.

Final Mallacoota evacuees board ship

On Tuesday afternoon, a group of around 200 people boarded the HMAS Choules in the final Navy evacuation from the town.

Premier Daniel Andrews said there were still some people in Mallacoota who had registered for evacuation but were not able to board the ship, who would be flown out by helicopter instead.

Across the state, firefighters are working to put in place about 1,500 kilometres of containment lines around bushfires in a bid to reduce their spread when conditions worsen on Friday.

Rescue crews have also been able to get access to most remote East Gippsland communities which had been cut off by the fires, with some supplies delivered to the three which remained isolated.

Power has also remained a struggle for bushfire-hit towns, with around 3,100 people without power across the state’s bushfire zones at 4:00pm.

Those who wish to help communities affected by the bushfires are being urged to donate to the Victorian Bushfire Appeal, which has been set up by the Government in partnership with Bendigo Bank and the Salvation Army.

Police and Emergency Services Minister Lisa Neville said there had been reports of fraudsters exploiting goodwill by posing as bushfire victims or charities in cold calls and doorknocking and urged the community to only donate to the official fund or registered charities of their choice.