Aurora Australis (icebreaker)

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Aurora Australis (2).jpg
Aurora Australis docked at Hobart in 2010
Name: Aurora Australis
Namesake: The Aurora Australis
Owner: P&O Maritime Services
Operator: P&O Polar
Builder: Carrington Slipways, Tomago, New South Wales, Australia
Launched: 18 September 1989[citation needed]
In service: 30 March 1990[citation needed]
Homeport: Hobart
Identification: IMO number: 8717283
Status: In Service
General characteristics
Type: Icebreaker
Displacement: 8,158 tons
Length: 94.91 m (311.4 ft)
Beam: 20.3 m (67 ft)
Draught: 7.862 m (25.79 ft)
Depth: 10.43 m (34.2 ft)
Ice class: LR 1A Super Icebreaker
Installed power: Wärtsilä 16V32D (5,500 kW) and 12V32D (4,500 kW)
  • 16.8 knots (31.1 km/h; 19.3 mph) (max)
  • 13 knots (24 km/h; 15 mph) (cruising)
  • 2.5 knots (4.6 km/h; 2.9 mph) (1.23 m (4.0 ft) ice)
  • 1,700 m3 (60,000 cu ft) of break bulk cargo
  • 1,000 m3 (35,000 cu ft) of supply fuel in tanks
  • 29 TEU
  • 116 passengers
Crew: 24
Aircraft carried: Up to four helicopters
Aviation facilities: Hangar and helideck

Aurora Australis is an Australian icebreaker. Built by Carrington Slipways and launched in 1989, the vessel is owned by P&O Maritime Services, but is regularly chartered by the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) for research cruises in Antarctic waters and to support Australian bases in Antarctica.

Design and construction[edit]

Designed as a multi-purpose research and resupply ship, Aurora Australis was built by Carrington Slipways in Tomago, New South Wales.[1] The vessel was launched in September 1989.[1]

Aurora Australis berthed in Hobart under a rainbow, with the French research vessel L'Astrolabe to the right.

Aurora Australis is 94.91 metres (311.4 ft) long, and has a beam of 20.3 metres (67 ft), draught of 7.862 metres (25.79 ft) and moulded depth of 10.43 metres (34.2 ft). Her displacement is 8,158 tons, gross tonnage 6,574 and deadweight tonnage 3,911 tons.[1] Her propulsion machinery consists of two Wärtsilä medium-speed diesel engines in father-son arrangement, one 16-cylinder 16V32D producing 5,500 kW and one 12-cylinder 12V32D producing 4,500 kW. Both engines are coupled to a single shaft through a reduction gear, driving a single, left-hand-turning controllable-pitch propeller in a nozzle.[2] Slow speed manoeuvring is achieved with three manoeuvring thrusters, one forward and two aft.[2] Aurora Australis has a maximum speed of 16.8 knots (31.1 km/h; 19.3 mph),[citation needed] and a cruising speed of 13 knots (24 km/h; 15 mph).[1] The vessel can break level ice up to 1.23 metres (4 ft 0 in) thick at 2.5 knots (4.6 km/h; 2.9 mph).[1][3]

Aurora Australis is served by a crew of 24[3] and carry up to 116 passengers accommodated in three or four-bunk cabins with attached bathrooms.[1][4] The ship has a cargo capacity of 1,700 cubic metres (60,000 cu ft) for break bulk or 29 twenty-foot equivalent containers, and a supply tank that can hold 1,000 cubic metres (35,000 cu ft) of fuel.[citation needed] The ship is fitted with laboratories for biological, meteorological, and oceanographic research, and was designed with a trawl deck for the deployment and recovery of research instruments while at sea.[1] The ship's hangar and helideck allow for the operation of up to three helicopters,[1] usually Eurocopter Squirrels or Sikorsky S-76s.[citation needed]


Researchers from Aurora Australis observing a pair of penguins

Aurora Australis is chartered by the AAD over the southern summer for research purposes, and to support the Antarctic bases operated by the AAD.[4] The vessel spends most winters in port in Hobart, Tasmania, as the AAD headquarters is in the nearby town of Kingston.[citation needed] P&O sometimes charter the ship for other work during winter.[citation needed]

In 1998, the Aurora Australis became stranded in ice and was attempted to be towed into clear water by the Japanese icebreaker Shirase. The onboard engineers afforded temporary repairs and the vessel was able to make its way to clear water under its own power.[5]

On 8 May 2011, Aurora Australis was chartered by the Department of Defence for a two-month deployment (ending 30 June) as an amphibious transport ship supporting the Royal Australian Navy.[4] The charter, costing A$3.375 million, was to assist in the Australian government response to humanitarian crises and natural disasters that occurred while the naval heavy lift ship HMAS Tobruk underwent maintenance.[4]

In December 2013, Aurora Australis, Chinese research vessel Xuě Lóng and French icebreaker L'Astrolabe attempted to rescue Akademik Shokalskiy, trapped in an outbreak of old glacial ice in the Antarctic Ocean. Xuě Lóng reached within 6NM of the ship before being forced to turn back. L'Astrolabe failed to reach that far before turning back to open water. Aurora Australis reached within 10 nautical miles (19 km; 12 mi) before also being forced to turn back.[6] After failure of all three icebreakers to reach the beset vessel, the personnel aboard Akademik Shokalskiy flattened a helipad on the ice to prepare for helicopter evacuation when the weather cleared. On 2 January 2014, the helirescue was performed by Xuě Lóng‍ '​s helicopters, directly transferring people from Akademik Shokalskiy to a makeshift helipad prepared on the sea-ice near the Aurora Australis, the boat transfer having been cancelled due to excess ice around Xuě Lóng; left aboard were 22 crew members to attempt to free the ship when winds clear the ice, or when a Russian heavy icebreaker arrives to clear a path. The rescued people were expected back in Hobart, Australia, in mid-January, after Aurora Australis completed her scheduled resupply of Casey Station which was interrupted for the rescue mission.[7]

On 5 January 2014, the 399-foot (122 m) USCGC Polar Star departed Sydney to assist in freeing the Chinese icebreaker and the Russian ship.[8][9] On 7 January 2014, a change of wind direction which loosened the icepack around the ships enabled Xuě Lóng and Akademik Shokalskiy to work their own way free before the American ship arrived.[10]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "Aurora Australis". Australian Antarctic Division. 18 April 2011. Retrieved 13 May 2011. 
  2. ^ a b Barlow, Karen (25 January 2011). "Revhead heaven in icebreaker's engine room". ABC News Online. Retrieved 13 May 2011. 
  3. ^ a b Departmental investigation into the engine room fire onboard the Australian Antarctic Research and Supply Vessel Aurora Australis at the Antarctic ice edge on 22 July 1998. MIIU. Retrieved 2 April 2012
  4. ^ a b c d "Amphibious Ship Update" (Press release). The Hon. Jason Clare MP Minister for Defence Materiel. 11 May 2011. Archived from the original on 26 May 2011. Retrieved 13 May 2011. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ American Morning (CNN TV). 30 December 2013. Event occurs at 07h25.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  7. ^ American Morning (CNN TV). 2 January 2014. Event occurs at 09h20 EST.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  8. ^ "US icebreaker heads to Antarctic to help stuck ships". Yahoo News. 5 January 2014. 
  9. ^ "U.S. Icebreaker to Assist Stuck Russian, Chinese Ships". 6 January 2014. Retrieved 6 January 2014. 
  10. ^ "Antarctic ships escape from ice trap as weather changes". The BBC. 7 January 2014. Retrieved 7 January 2014. 

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