Without doubt, the Nella Dan was the most famous of the J. Lauritzen’s Dan ships to serve with ANARE.

Built by the Aarlborg Shipyard Pty Ltd in 1961 with input from the Antarctic Division, the Nella Dan was named in honour of Nel Law, wife of the Director Phillip Law.

At the time of its construction, the Nella Dan set the standard for polar vessels. The ship’s design incorporated all the features of the other Dan ships. Although the ice breaker stern, ice fins and ice knife were regular Dan features, a novel addition was the double hull in the Nella Dan's engine room and holds.

The Nella Dan sailed to the Antarctic every year of the 26 years it was chartered by ANARE.


  • main engine: turbo-charged Burmeister & Wain diesel, with an output of 2500 IHP (Indicated Horse Power); reversible propeller blades
  • length overall: 75.5 metres
  • breadth moulded: 14.3 metres
  • bunker capacity: 736.2 tons
  • speed: 12.5 knots
  • originally 34 passenger capacity; later 42 with addition of cabins on starboard aft deck
  • helicopter deck of about 100 square metres on the aft deck
  • special built-in shaft for hydrographic surveys extended from the promenade deck to the bottom of the ship; also supported echo sounders

Key Antarctic voyages

The Nella Dan played a key role in the development of Australia’s major Antarctic and Southern Ocean marine science program.

In 1979, the Antarctic Division joined the internationally coordinated program to study marine living resources in the Southern Ocean: BIOMASS (Biological Investigations of Marine Antarctic Systems and Stocks). This was the first major Australian Antarctic project investigating deep sea marine science. The Nella Dan was modified to support deep sea research trawling with instrument rooms, echo sounders, a computer data logging system, and laboratory. An additional innovation was a closed circuit television to allow vision of the trawl deck from the instrument room and the bridge.

On the Nella Dan’s last fateful voyage in December 1987, bad weather blew up during resupply operations at Macquarie Island. The Nella Dan dragged anchor and was driven aground just metres off the island. Although plans were initially made to salvage the vessel, the decision was eventually made to scuttle the ship. It was sunk in deep water off Macquarie Island.

The response from around the world was overwhelming. Crew and expeditioners who had sailed in the ship composed poetry, songs and eulogies in its honour. A former expeditioner mourned:

A tired old ship disappeared under the sea, but it is only the empty shell and not the soul of Nella Dan. Nobody can destroy the memory and love of hundreds of expeditioners who sailed in the little red ship during her 26 years… Nella Dan rests now at the bottom of the sea, but will live forever in the hearts of thousands of friends. – From ‘Farewell Nella Dan’, Aurora, March 1988.

After the Aurora Australis, the Nella Dan served the longest time with the Australian Antarctic program.