Aurora Australis is an Australian icebreaker. Built by Carrington Slipways and launched in 1989, the vessel is owned by P&O Maritime Services, but is regularly chartered by the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) for research cruises in Antarctic waters and to support Australian bases in Antarctica.
Designed as a multi-purpose research and resupply ship, Aurora Australis was built by Carrington Slipways in Tomago, New South Wales. The vessel was launched in September 1989.
Aurora Australis is 94.91 metres (311.4 ft) long, and has a beam of 20.3 metres (67 ft), draught of 7.862 metres (25.79 ft) and moulded depth of 10.43 metres (34.2 ft). Her displacement is 8,158 tons, gross tonnage 6,574 and deadweight tonnage 3,911 tons. Her propulsion machinery consists of two Wärtsilä medium-speed diesel engines in father-son arrangement, one 16-cylinder 16V32D producing 5,500 kW and one 12-cylinder 12V32D producing 4,500 kW. Both engines are coupled to a single shaft through a reduction gear, driving a single, left-hand-turning controllable-pitch propeller in a nozzle. Slow speed manoeuvring is achieved with three manoeuvring thrusters, one forward and two aft. Aurora Australis has a maximum speed of 16.8 knots (31.1 km/h; 19.3 mph), and a cruising speed of 13 knots (24 km/h; 15 mph). The vessel can break level ice up to 1.23 metres (4 ft 0 in) thick at 2.5 knots (4.6 km/h; 2.9 mph).
Aurora Australis is served by a crew of 24 and carry up to 116 passengers accommodated in three or four-bunk cabins with attached bathrooms. The ship has a cargo capacity of 1,700 cubic metres (60,000 cu ft) for break bulk or 29 twenty-foot equivalent containers, and a supply tank that can hold 1,000 cubic metres (35,000 cu ft) of fuel. The ship is fitted with laboratories for biological, meteorological, and oceanographic research, and was designed with a trawl deck for the deployment and recovery of research instruments while at sea. The ship's hangar and helideck allow for the operation of up to three helicopters, usually Eurocopter Squirrels or Sikorsky S-76s.
Aurora Australis is chartered by the AAD over the southern summer for research purposes, and to support the Antarctic bases operated by the AAD. The vessel spends most winters in port in Hobart, Tasmania, as the AAD headquarters is in the nearby town of Kingston. P&O sometimes charter the ship for other work during winter.
In 1998, Aurora Australis became stranded in ice and was attempted to be towed into clear water by the Japanese icebreaker Shirase. The onboard engineers afforded temporary repairs and the vessel was able to make its way to clear water under its own power.
On 8 May 2011, Aurora Australis was chartered by the Department of Defence for a two-month deployment (ending 30 June) as an amphibious transport ship supporting the Royal Australian Navy. The charter, costing A$3.375 million, was to assist in the Australian government response to humanitarian crises and natural disasters that occurred while the naval heavy lift ship HMAS Tobruk underwent maintenance.
In late December 2013, Aurora Australis, Chinese research vessel Xuě Lóng and French icebreaker L'Astrolabe attempted to rescue Akademik Shokalskiy, which had become stranded in thick Antarctic ice in Watt Bay. None of the three ships were able to reach the Russian icebreaker, with Aurora Australis aborting efforts on the morning of 30 December, due to the risk of the ship also becoming stuck. On 2 February, the 52 passengers from Akademik Shokalskiy were transported by helicopter to Aurora Australis by Xuě Lóng's helicopter (the Chinese icebreaker having become trapped as well). After the rescue, Aurora Australis continued on her original mission to resupply Casey Station, before returning to Hobart on 22 January.
On 24 February 2016, the vessel was damaged when it ran aground in Horseshoe Harbour, near Mawson Station, Antarctica, after breaking its mooring during a blizzard. It was refloated on 27 February 2016 and returned to Western Australia for repairs.
The predicted end of service life for Aurora Australis, after the most recent round of refits, is May 2017. In late October 2015, the Australian government announced a plan to acquire a new icebreaker to replace Aurora Australis by 2019. The vessel will be custom-built for the Australian government at a cost of up to A$1 billion (ABC News reported a predicted cost of A$500 million, while The Sydney Morning Herald's reporting of the A$1 billion figure included lifetime operating costs), with DMS Maritime as the preferred tenderer and maintainer, naval architects Knud E. Hansen as the designer, and Damen Group as the shipbuilder. P&O were originally in competition for the tender, but withdrew in January 2015, citing costing inefficiencies in the proposed contract. As of October 2015, there has been no decision made on how to cover the capability gap between the two vessels.
The proposed vessel will have a displacement of 23,800 tonnes and be 156 metres (512 ft) long, with a top speed of 16 knots (30 km/h; 18 mph) and a cruising speed of 12 knots (22 km/h; 14 mph). The ship will carry up to 116 crew and passengers, and a cargo capacity of 3,000 square metres (32,000 sq ft), including 96 shipping containers. The vessel will be able to break ice up to 1.65 metres (5 ft 5 in) at 3 knots (5.6 km/h; 3.5 mph). The icebreaker is expected to be operational by October 2019, and will be home-ported in Hobart for the ship's 30-year operational lifespan.