Heavy lifting

Graphic showing a side-by-side comparison of the new icebreaker and the Aurora Australis.
A side-by-side comparison of the new icebreaker and the Aurora Australis. (Photo: Rob Bryson)
A barge delivering a refrigerated container from the ship to Casey research station.

As well as providing a platform for science, the new icebreaker must resupply Australia’s three Antarctic stations and Macquarie Island.

To do this the ship can carry 1200 tonnes below decks, in up to 96 20-foot shipping containers. Further containers and very large items can be carried on the cargo hold hatches. The ship also has storage for some 30 more containers on the science deck and elsewhere around the ship. 

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.

“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,” Shipping Interfaces Manager, Mr Vic Doust, said.

To move all these containers and heavy equipment around, the ship has two 55 tonne ‘knuckle-boom’ cranes next to the main holds, a 15 tonne crane on the helideck 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.

Two barges will be able to carry over 45 tonnes each, enabling then 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 deliver cargo to the station and ‘return to Australia’ cargo to the ship.

Three smaller watercraft (‘tenders’) are available to move passengers from ship to shore, while a fourth science tender is available for inshore studies and to survey unchartered areas.

The new ship also has space for 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.

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 of the ship, and forward sea ice boom, at the same time. This will significantly reduce the time needed for resupply and science operations.

When it comes to refuelling, the ship can carry up to 1.9 million litres of fuel – enough for two stations. To facilitate over-water and over-ice refuelling operations the ship has a ‘dynamic positioning system’, which allows it 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.

Wendy Pyper
Australian Antarctic Division