Construction of Australia’s new icebreaker commences

Australia’s new icebreaker — steel cutting

Video transcript

Today we started the plasma cutter for the first time on the construction process for Australia’s new Antarctic research vessel. This is a key milestone because it ends the process of design, which has been going for the last 12 months, but the project itself had its inception in 2008 when we first started talking about this ship and the need to replace the Aurora Australis over the next decade. This is the culmination of 10 years of work from people across the Australian Antarctic Division and the Australian Antarctic Program. We’re putting together a 15,000 tonne steel jigsaw puzzle. The next milestone for us will be keel laying where all of the parts of the keel laying will be put together into the first block. Construction is still on schedule for delivery into Hobart in mid-2020 when the ship will undertake its first season in support of the Australian Antarctic Program.

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Man in hard hat about to hit button on panel
Icebreaker project manager, Nick Browne, prepares to hit the ‘go’ button on the first stage of construction (Photo: Damen/Australian Antarctic Division)
People standing around vat of water with machine cutting steel and throwing flames offCutting of steelShipyardsSteel cutting

Construction of Australia’s new Antarctic icebreaker has begun with a steel cutting ceremony in Romania overnight.

Australian Antarctic Division Modernisation Manager, Rob Bryson, said the steel cutting is the first tangible step of the ship build and it’s a momentous occasion.

“Up until now we have only seen the ship through digital animations or on paper, so it’s really exciting to actually see the ship start to take shape.

“Steel cutting involves the use of computer-controlled high-energy cutting machines which use a combination of laser and plasma technology as well as high-pressure water to slice up large pieces of plate steel, which can be up to 130 millimetres thick.”

“These first pieces of steel will start to form the base of the ship as one of 57 modules, some weighing up to 300 tonnes, to be put together to form the icebreaker over the next two years of construction.”

The ship is being built by the Damen Shipyards Group in Galati, a leading shipbuilder with experience constructing scientific, hydrographic, naval and ice class ships.

The build program is being managed on behalf of the Department of the Environment and Energy, by Australian company DMS Maritime Pty Ltd (now trading as Serco Defence), who are responsible for both the overall design and build of the ship, and the operation and maintenance of the ship when it is commissioned.

The next key milestone in the construction will be the laying of the keel, scheduled for late August.

Australian schoolchildren in Years 5 — 8 have just eight days left to submit their suggestions for the icebreaker’s name, with a flight to Antarctica on offer for the winning entry. The competition closes on Friday 9 June, with the new name to be announced in September.

The icebreaker is the centrepiece of the Australian Antarctic Strategy and 20 Year Action Plan launched in April 2016. It will be the main lifeline to Australia’s Antarctic and sub-Antarctic research stations, and the central platform for scientific research in the region.

“The ship has been designed to deliver a greater icebreaking and cargo capacity, it will offer increased endurance and operational flexibility and provide us with state of the art research, rescue and resupply capabilities,” Mr Bryson said.

Hobart will be the home port of the new icebreaker, providing opportunities for Tasmanian businesses to provide a range of support services over the 30 year life of the vessel.

The new icebreaker will replace the Aurora Australis, which has been serving the Australian Antarctic Program since 1989. The new icebreaker will arrive in Hobart in mid-2020.