Australian Icebreaker Still Aground in Antarctica

The Australian icebreaker Aurora Australis aground at West Arm in Horseshoe Harbour, near the Mawson station in Antarctica. Photo credit: Australian Antarctic Division
The Australian icebreaker Aurora Australis aground at West Arm in Horseshoe Harbour, near the Mawson station in Antarctica. Photo credit: Australian Antarctic Division

Australia’s most powerful icebreaker Aurora Australis remains aground in Antarctica near Mawson station after the ship broke free from its moorings during a blizzard on Wednesday. 

All 68 expeditioners and crew remain on board and are safe and well, an update from Australia’s Antarctic Division said. The expeditioners are expected to be transferred to Mawson research station once conditions allow. 

Blizzard conditions continued on Thursday but are forecast to ease overnight, the Antarctic Division said. 

The crew of the Aurora Australis has discovered a breach in the hull into a ballast tank. The breach occurred in an area of the ship that poses no risk to the stability of the vessel or of fuel leaking into the environment, the Antarctic Division said. The crew continues to monitor the hull.

Attempts to refloat the vessel will occur once the weather conditions ease. Owner P&O Maritime has said it will take a minimum of three days for the ship’s crew to complete a full assessment of the ship once the vessel is afloat again, and attempts to return the ship to service will follow the completion of this assessment.

It is unknown if the ship will be able to complete its original voyage, but the Antarctic Division says it has been working on a range of contingency plans.

The Aurora Australis broke free of its mooring lines at 3:15 p.m. AEDT Wednesday (09:15 a.m. Mawson time) during a blizzard, with sustained winds of more than 130 km/h (80 mph)  The ship is aground at West Arm in Horseshoe Harbour. 

The Antarctic Division is receiving assistance from the U.S. Antarctic program to transport expeditioners who were waiting at Davis research station to return home aboard the Aurora Australis after the summer season. In the coming days, a U.S. LC130 aircraft will move more than 30 expeditioners from Davis research station to Casey research station, to be flown home on the Australian Antarctic Division’s A319 airbus. 

The Aurora Australis departed Hobart on January 11, 2016 and has been undertaking marine science around the Kerguelen Plateau region. It arrived at Mawson for a resupply mission on Saturday, February 20th.

The 3,911 tonne Aurora Australia is designed as a multi-purpose research and resupply ship capable of breaking ice up to 1.2 meters thick. The ship is 94.9 meters long.