Aurora Australis (icebreaker)

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Aurora Australis, Fremantle, 2016 (04).JPG
Aurora Australis in 2016
Name: Aurora Australis
Namesake: Aurora Australis
Owner: P&O Maritime Services
Operator: P&O Polar
Ordered: December 1987[1]
Builder: Carrington Slipways, Tomago, New South Wales, Australia
Yard number: 207[1]
Laid down: 28 October 1988[1]
Launched: 10 September 1989[1]
Commissioned: 29 March 1990[1]
Decommissioned: March 2020
Homeport: Hobart
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:
  • 1A Super
  • CASPPRIce Class 2 (midship)
  • CASPPR Ice Class 3 (ends)[1]
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. Currently it is the only Australian-built and operated icebreaker ship.

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.[2] The vessel was launched in September 1989.[2]

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.[3] Slow speed manoeuvring is achieved with three manoeuvring thrusters, one forward and two aft.[3] 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][4]

Aurora Australis is served by a crew of 24[4] and carry up to 116 passengers accommodated in three or four-bunk cabins with attached bathrooms.[2][5] 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 is chartered by the AAD over the southern summer for research purposes, and to support the Antarctic bases operated by the AAD.[5] 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]

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.[5] 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.[5]

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.[6][7] 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.[6][7] 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).[8] After the rescue, Aurora Australis continued on her original mission to resupply Casey Station, before returning to Hobart on 22 January.[9][10]

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.[11] 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.[12][13]

Engine Room Fire[edit]

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 HALON 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 ATSB and major repairs.[14]


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.[15][16][17]


The predicted end of service life for Aurora Australis, after the most recent round of refits, is May 2017.[18] In late October 2015, the Australian government announced a plan to acquire a new icebreaker to replace Aurora Australis by 2019.[19] Nuyina[20] will be custom-built for the Australian government at a cost of up to A$1 billion (ABC News reported a predicted cost of A$500 million, while The Sydney Morning Herald's reporting of the A$1 billion figure included lifetime operating costs), with DMS Maritime as the preferred tenderer and maintainer, naval architects Knud E. Hansen as the designer, and Damen Group as the shipbuilder.[19][18] P&O were originally in competition for the tender, but withdrew in January 2015, citing costing inefficiencies in the proposed contract.[18] As of October 2015, there has been no decision made on how to cover the capability gap between the two vessels.[18]

Nuyina will have a displacement of 23,800 tonnes and be 156 metres (512 ft) long, with a top speed of 16 knots (30 km/h; 18 mph) and a cruising speed of 12 knots (22 km/h; 14 mph).[19][21] The ship will carry up to 160 crew and passengers, and a cargo capacity of 3,000 square metres (32,000 sq ft), including 96 shipping containers.[19] The vessel will be able to break ice up to 1.65 metres (5 ft 5 in) at 3 knots (5.6 km/h; 3.5 mph).[19] The icebreaker is expected to be operational in 2020, and will be home-ported in Hobart for the ship's 30-year operational lifespan.[22]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Aurora Australis (8717283)". Sea-web. 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. ^ 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.
  4. ^ 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
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ a b Martinez, Michael; Yan, Holly; Yan, Cy (28 December 2013). "Chinese icebreaker turns back from Antarctic rescue mission". CNN. Retrieved 15 January 2016.
  7. ^ a b Phillips, Nicky (30 December 2013). "Aurora Australis abandons attempt to save Akademik Shokalskiy in Antarctica". Traveller. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 15 January 2016.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ Australian Associated Press (16 January 2016). "Australian icebreaker heading home". SBS. Retrieved 15 January 2016.
  10. ^ Australian Associated Press (22 January 2014). "Antarctic cruise routes face scrutiny". SBS. Retrieved 15 January 2016.
  11. ^ Tasmanian Times (3 April 2020). "Australian Government Urged to Acquire Aurora Australis as Emergency Vessel". Retrieved 8 April 2020.
  12. ^ "Aurora Australis icebreaker reportedly sold to Argentina". ABC Radio National. 30 June 2020. Retrieved 18 August 2020.
  13. ^ "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.
  14. ^ "Investigation: 143 - Engine room fire on board Aurora Australis". Retrieved 11 August 2019.
  15. ^ "Aurora Australis icebreaker runs aground near Mawson Station". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 24 February 2016. Retrieved 24 February 2016.
  16. ^ "Damaged Aurora Australis expected to sail to Western Australia for repairs - By Fiona Blackwood". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 27 February 2016. Retrieved 27 February 2016.
  17. ^ "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.
  18. ^ a b c d Darby, Andrew (29 October 2015). "Malcolm Turnbull defends plan to build $1b icebreaker overseas". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 15 January 2016.
  19. ^ a b c d e 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 15 January 2016.
  20. ^ Boaty McBoatface: Australia sees the light on naming new icebreaker after southern aurora , ABC News Online, 2017-09-29
  21. ^ "Australia's New Icebreaker". Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. 29 October 2015. Archived from the original on 5 December 2015. Retrieved 15 January 2016.
  22. ^ "Australia's New State-of-the-art Icebreaker Unveiled". Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. 29 October 2015. Archived from the original on 5 December 2015. Retrieved 15 January 2016.

Further reading[edit]

  • Laverick, Sarah (2019). Through Ice & Fire. Sydney: Pan Macmillan Australia. ISBN 9781760554798.
  • Lester, Alison (2017). Sophie Scott goes South. North Sydney, NSW: Penguin Random House Australia. ISBN 9780143786337.

External links[edit]