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Aurora Australis (icebreaker)

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Aurora Australis in Fremantle Harbour, 2016
NameAurora Australis
NamesakeAurora Australis
OwnerP&O Maritime Services
OperatorP&O Polar
OrderedDecember 1987[1]
BuilderCarrington Slipways, Tomago, Australia
Yard number207[1]
Laid down28 October 1988[1]
Launched10 September 1989[1]
Commissioned29 March 1990[1]
DecommissionedMarch 2020
Nickname(s)Orange Roughy
General characteristics
Displacement8,158 tons
Length94.91 m (311.4 ft)
Beam20.3 m (67 ft)
Draught7.862 m (25.79 ft)
Depth10.43 m (34.2 ft)
Ice class
  • 1A Super
  • CASPPRIce Class 2 (midship)
  • CASPPR Ice Class 3 (ends)[1]
Installed powerWärtsilä 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
Aircraft carriedUp to four helicopters
Aviation facilitiesHangar and helideck

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

Design and construction


Designed as a multi-purpose research and resupply ship, Aurora Australis was built by Carrington Slipways in Tomago, New South Wales.[2] The vessel was launched in September 1989.[2][3]

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.[2]

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.[4]

Slow speed manoeuvring is achieved with three manoeuvring thrusters, one forward and two aft.[4] 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).[2] 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).[2][5]

Aurora Australis had a crew of 24[5] and could carry up to 116 passengers accommodated in three or four-bunk cabins with attached bathrooms.[2][6] 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.[2] The ship's hangar and helideck allow for the operation of up to three helicopters,[2] usually Eurocopter Squirrels or Sikorsky S-76s.[citation needed]


Researchers from Aurora Australis observing a pair of penguins

Aurora Australis was chartered by the AAD over the southern summer for research purposes, and to support the Antarctic bases operated by the AAD.[6] The vessel spent most winters in port in Hobart, as the AAD headquarters is in the nearby town of Kingston.[citation needed] P&O sometimes chartered the ship for other work during winter.[citation needed]

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.[6] 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.[6]

In late December 2013, Aurora Australis, Chinese research vessel Xuě Lóng and French icebreaker L'Astrolabe attempted to rescue Akademik Shokalskiy, which had become stranded in thick Antarctic ice in Watt Bay.[7][8] None of the three ships were able to reach the Russian icebreaker, with Aurora Australis aborting efforts on the morning of 30 December, due to the risk of the ship also becoming stuck.[7][8] On 2 February, the 52 passengers from Akademik Shokalskiy were transported by helicopter to Aurora Australis by Xuě Lóng's helicopter, the Chinese icebreaker having become trapped as well.[9] After the rescue, Aurora Australis continued on her original mission to resupply Casey Station, before returning to Hobart on 22 January.[10][11]

The Aurora Australis returned from its final voyage in March 2020. After 31 years of service to the Australian Antarctic Program, the last trip was a two-week voyage to resupply Macquarie Island and transport expeditioners to the south. Suggestions have been made that the ship could be used as an emergency vessel if acquired by the Australian Government.[12] Another possible use that was suggested for the ship was as an Antarctic-themed museum berthed in Hobart. A not-for-profit organisation, the Aurora Australis Foundation, was established to explore this option. However, by June 2020 it looked like the most likely outcome for the Aurora Australis was to be sold to the Government of Argentina for further Antarctic deployment.[13][14]

Engine Room Fire


At 2.25am on 22 July 1998 whilst en route to Antarctica a fire broke out in the engine room. The researchers were on the first winter voyage to the Antarctic, a seven-week expedition to explore, the Mertz Glacier Polynya. [15] [16]

On 14 January 1999 whilst en route to Antarctica a fire caused by leaking high pressure diesel igniting on the hot STBD main engine caused a major fire. The fire resulted in zero visibility in the engine room and was suppressed by the release of halonium ion fire suppression system. Re-entry to the compartment resulted in successful restoration of power and propulsion to the ship and it returned to Fremantle under its own power for an investigation by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau and major repairs.[17]



On 24 February 2016, the vessel was damaged when it ran aground in Horseshoe Harbour, near Mawson Station, Antarctica, during a blizzard, after a shackle on a forward mooring line came undone, causing the other three lines to break. It was refloated on 27 February 2016 and returned to Western Australia for repairs.[18][19][20]



In October 2015, the Australian government announced a plan to acquire a new icebreaker to replace Aurora Australis by 2019.[21] Nuyina entered service in 2021.[22][23]

Aurora Australis was decommissioned in 2020, amid attempts to retain the vessel in Hobart as a floating museum.[24] Although these efforts were unsuccessful, the ship's tender, Aurora Australis II, was acquired by the Aurora Australis Foundation with the aim of making it the centrepiece of an Australian Antarctic Museum.[25]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Aurora Australis (8717283)". Sea-web. S&P Global. Retrieved 6 October 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h "Aurora Australis". Australian Antarctic Division. 18 April 2011. Retrieved 13 May 2011.
  3. ^ Antarctic research supply vessel launched Australian Transport & Distribution Management October 1989 page 25
  4. ^ a b Barlow, Karen (25 January 2011). "Revhead heaven in icebreaker's engine room". ABC News Online. Archived from the original on 1 May 2011. Retrieved 13 May 2011.
  5. ^ 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 Archived 16 April 2014 at the Wayback Machine. MIIU. Retrieved 2 April 2012
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ a b Martinez, Michael; Yan, Holly; Yan, Cy (28 December 2013). "Chinese icebreaker turns back from Antarctic rescue mission". CNN. Retrieved 15 January 2016.
  8. ^ a b Phillips, Nicky (30 December 2013). "Aurora Australis abandons attempt to save Akademik Shokalskiy in Antarctica". Traveller. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 15 January 2016.
  9. ^ Phillips, Nicky (3 January 2014). "Akademik Shokalskiy rescue: tears of joy as passengers come in from the cold". Traveller. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 15 January 2016.
  10. ^ Australian Associated Press (16 January 2016). "Australian icebreaker heading home". SBS. Retrieved 15 January 2016.
  11. ^ Australian Associated Press (22 January 2014). "Antarctic cruise routes face scrutiny". SBS. Retrieved 15 January 2016.
  12. ^ Tasmanian Times (3 April 2020). "Australian Government Urged to Acquire Aurora Australis as Emergency Vessel". Retrieved 8 April 2020.
  13. ^ "Aurora Australis icebreaker reportedly sold to Argentina". Radio National. 30 June 2020. Retrieved 18 August 2020.
  14. ^ "Icebreaker "donation" for Argentina? Australia's "Aurora Australis"?". Montevideo. MercoPress. 12 October 2020. Archived from the original on 15 October 2020. Retrieved 23 November 2020.
  15. ^ "History of the Aurora Australis". Retrieved 2 March 2021.
  16. ^ "Recount of the events of 22 July 1998". Retrieved 2 March 2021.
  17. ^ "Investigation: 143 - Engine room fire on board Aurora Australis". www.atsb.gov.au. Retrieved 11 August 2019.
  18. ^ "Aurora Australis icebreaker runs aground near Mawson Station". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 24 February 2016. Retrieved 24 February 2016.
  19. ^ "Damaged Aurora Australis expected to sail to Western Australia for repairs - By Fiona Blackwood". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 27 February 2016. Retrieved 27 February 2016.
  20. ^ "Aurora Australis: Japanese icebreaker diverts to pick up stranded Australian Antarctic expeditioners - By Linda Hunt". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 4 March 2016. Retrieved 4 March 2016.
  21. ^ Ikin, Sam; Bolger, Rosemary; Gamenz, Emilie (29 October 2015). "New $500 million icebreaker Australia's biggest investment the Antarctic program, Prime Minister says". ABC News. Retrieved 24 January 2023.
  22. ^ Boaty McBoatface: Australia sees the light on naming new icebreaker after southern aurora. ABC News, 29 September 2017. Retrieved 24 January 2023.
  23. ^ RSV Nuyina embarks on sea trials Australian Antarctic Division 24 November 2020
  24. ^ Last-ditch bid to secure Aurora Australis for 'floating museum'. ABC News, 6 June 2020. Retrieved 24 January 2023.
  25. ^ Aurora Australis II. Aurora Australis Foundation, 5 September 2021. Retrieved 24 January 2023.

Further reading