New icebreaker offers enhanced cargo capacity

A barge delivers a refrigerated container from the ship to Casey station.
Barges play a critical role in station resupply – seen here delivering a refrigerated container to Casey. The new icebreaker will have two much larger barges capable of carrying over 45 tonnes each. (Photo: Wendy Pyper)
A red B3 helicopter travels over sea ice.Graphic showing sea ice staging area.

As well as providing a platform for science the new icebreaker must resupply Australia’s three Antarctic stations and its sub-Antarctic station on Macquarie Island. To do this the RSV Nuyina can carry a whopping 1200 tonnes below decks, in up to 96 20-foot shipping containers.

The ship also has storage for fourteen 20-foot and six 10-foot science containers on the aft deck, four more science containers above the heli-hanger, and seven containers at the front of the heli-deck.

The two below-deck holds, however, are the workhorses of station resupply. Each hold can carry 48 containers. The forward hold is designed for dangerous cargo (such as drums of aviation fuel), while the rear hold can accommodate another 48 shipping containers or a mix of containers and oddly-shaped cargo, such as heavy vehicles. There is additional storage in the holds for smaller items around the container locations, and further containers and very large items can be carried on the cargo hold hatches.

This cargo capacity is a major increase on the 19 containers that can be carried in the holds of Aurora Australis, and potentially enables the resupply of two stations in one voyage, rather than one at a time.

To move all these containers and heavy equipment around, the Nuyina has two 55 tonne ‘knuckle-boom’ cranes that can be used in rough seas, a 15 tonne crane on the heli-deck and a 15 tonne side-loading crane that can move containers from the wharf to the science aft deck.

Once at station there are a range of options for transferring cargo from ship to shore.

Watercraft

Two barges will be able to carry over 45 tonnes each, enabling each to carry a truck loaded with a 20 foot container to and from the ship. In a loop between the ship and station the trucks will be able to be loaded with cargo by the ship’s cranes, and roll off the barge to take the cargo ashore (a system called ‘load on-roll off’). To facilitate this, cranes will move cargo out of the holds into temporary positions on the deck, so that cargo returning to Australia can be slotted straight in.

The Nuyina comes with four smaller watercraft or ‘tenders’. Two personnel transfer tenders are located either side of the vessel, with ‘motion compensated deployment systems’ to allow deployment and recovery in moderate seas. A third tender can be deployed from the stern to support operations in sea ice. These tenders can move up to eight passengers and their equipment ashore at a time. The fourth science tender includes an A-frame, small winch and multibeam echosounder, to enable studies of inshore areas, including shallow uncharted areas where it is dangerous to send the icebreaker.

Helicopters

The new ship can house four AS350 B3 helicopters or two medium-sized helicopters similar to Sikorsky S92s. This capacity will enable the ship to be utilised by a range of other agencies outside the Antarctic season, including for humanitarian missions.

The B3s can sling load up to 1200 kg at a time from ship to shore. Four helicopters will be able to operate at a time, with one potentially landing on the aft helideck, another sling loading cargo from the front, and two others in-transit or off-loading ashore.

Concurrent activities

One of the exciting new possibilities enabled by the size of the ship is concurrent operations. For example, both main cargo cranes could be loading barges while helicopters load cargo from the heli-deck. Similarly, science operations can occur at the stern, side and forward sea ice boom at the same time. This will significantly reduce the time needed for resupply and science operations.

Refuelling

The Nuyina can carry up to 1.9 million litres of fuel – enough to refuel two stations. To facilitate over-water and over-ice refuelling operations the ship has a ‘dynamic positioning system’, which allows the ship to hold its position in high winds, tides and sea states within ±20 metres. This means the ship can get closer to the station than the Aurora Australis, so that during refuelling over water and ice there is less hose pipe interacting with sea ice, and improved pumping efficiency – reducing the time required to refuel and the hazards involved.

The size and scale of the new ship offers a new paradigm for science and resupply operations – it is now up to the Australian Antarctic Division to make the most of it.