Home » Australian Antarctic icebreaker hit by technical issues and industrial action

Australian Antarctic icebreaker hit by technical issues and industrial action

The $528 million RSV Nuyina is considered a “lifeline” for Australia’s stations in Antarctica.

But the ABC has confirmed the icebreaker’s two main cranes malfunctioned during its recent resupply mission to Mawson station.

It meant only a portion of the ship’s cargo could be offloaded ahead of the upcoming winter season.

“The resupply of Mawson research station last month was disrupted by bad weather and technical issues with the forward cranes of the RSV Nuyina,” the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) said.

The cranes, which can carry up to 55 tonnes each, are designed to access dozens of 20-foot containers held in the ship’s cargo holds.

The AAD said repairs at sea allowed one of the cranes to return to “partial operation”.

“That allowed for some critical supplies for Mawson station to be accessed,” it said.

“This was transported to station by helicopter.”

The AAD declined to outline the amount or type of cargo that was unable to be offloaded.

However, it said Mawson station had sufficient supplies, including food and fuel, to ensure the safety of expeditioners over the coming months.

Some supplies were able to be delivered to Mawson station by helicopter.(Supplied: Australian Antarctic Division)

‘Bordering on the farcical’

The technical issues affecting the cranes are the latest in a series of problems that have plagued the vessel since it first arrived in Hobart in 2021.

“You’d expect a new icebreaker, particularly of the magnitude of the Nuyina, to have some teething problems,” Greens senator Peter Whish-Wilson said.

“[But] this bordering on the farcical.”

Over the past three years, the issues have included:

a ship's crane and platform as seen from below deck

Each of the RSV Nuyina’s forward cranes has a 55-tonne lifting capacity. (Supplied: Australian Antarctic Division)

Documents obtained by the ABC under Freedom of Information laws also show some crew members were forced to don breathing apparatus after smoke was seen in the helicopter hangar last year.

The “thermal event”, which happened while the ship was carrying out a medical evacuation across the Southern Ocean, was caused by a problem with the ship’s de-icing cabling.

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