Captains of Nuyina

Captain Scott Laughlin and Captain Paul Clarke will soon share a rare privilege — leading alternating crews operating Australia’s new Antarctic icebreaker, RSV Nuyina.

It is a privilege hard earned, having both spent more than a decade each at the helm of other icebreakers, operating out of the Antarctic gateways of Hobart (Tasmania), and Stanley (Falkland Islands).

For Hobart-based Captain Laughlin, the Southern Ocean is a captivating place to work. With more than 50 voyages to Antarctica under his belt, as Captain of Australia’s current icebreaker, Aurora Australis, he is familiar with its cold and challenging conditions.

“I began my career in the ice on the Aurora Australis in 1994, starting at a junior rank and working my way up to Master,” he said.

“There is nothing more satisfying than successfully transiting through the roaring 40s, howling 50s and screaming 60s, sighting the sea ice edge, and crossing hundreds of miles through the ice to conduct science operations, or to resupply one of the Australian Antarctic stations.”

Captain Laughlin spent more than 10 years as Master, before a brief stint in the offshore industry. He recently joined Serco to assist with the design and build of the new icebreaker.

His Antarctic service has not been without challenges, including two ship fires in 1998, besetments in the ice, and assisting other vessels in trouble. In 2013, in recognition of his outstanding service to the Australian Antarctic Program and his “immense resilience in dealing with often dangerous sea conditions to ensure the safety of the ship, its crew and expeditioners”, he received the Australian Antarctic Medal.

Captain Laughlin has also been awarded the Peter Morris Medal by the Australian Maritime College, for improving international maritime safety and personnel standards (2014), and is the recipient of a Seacare Award for Best Individual Contribution to Safety (2006).

On the other side of the world, Captain Clarke has spent 11 years working for the British Antarctic Survey, and undertaking more than 20 voyages to Antarctica.

Born and raised in the Falkland Islands, in a family of seafarers, Captain Clarke began working for the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) as a deck hand in the 1994–95 season. He worked his way up the ranks, sailing on the ice strengthened cargo vessel RRS Bransfield, and later the RRS James Clark Ross and the RRS Ernest Shackleton. During that time he witnessed the breakup of the Larsen B ice shelf in 2002.

“When the ice shelf collapsed, we were working nearby and were asked to collect some photographs and samples,” he said.

“It was exciting and sobering being the first people to see this ice shelf, floating as a huge mass of debris; to see on the ground what had only been observed from satellites, and to be able to collect real time images and samples.”

Captain Clarke left BAS in 2006 to broaden his experiences, mostly working in South East Asia and Australia’s northwest shelf. He has spent the last decade sailing as a Master for shipping company Solstad/Farstad in the oil and gas industry, but he has been keen to return to the Antarctic fold.

“My ambition was always to become the Master on one of the polar research vessels, as I very much enjoyed the ice navigation challenges, research and survey work and resupply of the stations that we carried out with BAS,” he said

“This is an amazing opportunity with Serco and the Australian Antarctic Program to deliver world class support for their polar and science operations.

“This is going to be one of the best polar research and resupply vessels in the world when it’s completed next year. Who wouldn’t want to be the Captain on that?

Follow the captains as they prepare for the arrival of the ship in Hobart in 2020, and share their experiences in Romania and Antarctica in their ‘Captains’ Log’.

Australian Antarctic Division and Serco