Australia’s Antarctic Ships

On October 16, 2021, the Australian Antarctic Division’s (AAD) brand-new icebreaker RSV Nuyina arrived in its homeport of Hobart for the very first time. The ship will carry expeditioners to and from the bottom of the world, resupply Australia’s sub-Antarctic and polar stations and will be crucial in future scientific discoveries. Nuyina builds upon a century of Antarctic marine heritage and follows in the wakes of some iconic vessels.

Nella and the other Dan Ships

Australian expeditioners have been charting vessels to Antarctica since the beginning of the twentieth century but the Danish-built Dan ships are easily the most synonymous. They were involved in Aussie polar exploration for 34 years.

The MV Kista Dan carried building materials and played a major part in establishing two of Australia’s Antarctic stations—Mawson and Davis.

In 1959, the MV Thala Dan hit an uncharted rock pinnacle and became wedged. Using the same plan that freed Captain Cook’s Endeavor from the Great Barrier Reef in 1770, the Thala Dan took two weeks to come lose. After making some small repairs at Davis Station, which was close by, the ship headed back to Australia.

Scientists used the MV Magga Dan to explore a large chunk of Antarctica’s coastline in 1959–60. It was also the first time Australians used helicopters on the continent and they have been an important part of polar operations ever since.

The MV Nella Dan is easily the most well known of the Dan ships. From 1962–1987, the ship went on regular voyages to the South Pole. It played a crucial role in establishing Australia’s science programs in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. In December 1987, while resupplying the sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island Station, freak winds pushed the Nella Dan aground and it was badly damaged. Initial plans were made to salvage the ship but instead it was towed to deeper waters off the island and sunk.

RSV Aurora Australis

The RSV Aurora Australis was the first purpose-built icebreaker made for the AAD. The vessel was designed by Finish company Wärtsilä Marine Industries and was constructed at the shipyards in Newcastle, New South Wales. It was launched on September 10, 1989.

Affectionately called the “Orange Roughy”, the Aurora Australis’s real name is the title of the Southern Lights viewed in Tasmania and Antarctica. An aurora is a set of beautifully-coloured lights that dance across the night sky. They’re caused by the Earth’s magnetic field interacting with solar winds produced by the Sun.

The Aurora Australis was equipped with the latest technology the 1980s offered. Unlike the Dan ships, it had dedicated marine science facilities such as five multi-purpose labs, weather and water study labs, a scientific workroom, fish freezer and a wet lab, where experts could work with living specimens up close.

The ship experienced its own fair share of incidents over the years. In the early hours of July 22, 1998, a fire erupted in the engine room while the ship was traversing through thick ice. Thanks to the quick response from people onboard, the damage was small but the Aurora Australis still went to the Newcastle shipyards for an overhaul. In 1999, a second fire broke out and was quickly extinguished. The vessel headed to Fremantle for repairs.

In the end, the Aurora Australis was retired in 2020 after serving the AAD for 31 years. It transported over 14,000 individuals across more than 150 journeys to and from the South Pole.

RSV Nuyina

Ideas for a new icebreaker date back as far as 2008 when replacing the aging Aurora Australis were considered. The Federal Government approved project funding in 2016.

With a $1.9 billion budget, the AAD worked with Dutch ship building company Damen Group to design and build the new vessel. The icebreaker would be made with the latest state-of-the-art technology and would be future-proofed because it was expected to have a 30-year lifespan.

While the first sections of the ship were being constructed in 2017, a competition was held to name it. The two winning schools, St Virgil’s College (Hobart) and Secret Harbour Primary School (Perth), came up with Nuyina. Pronounced “Noy-yee-nah”, the word is the local Tasmanian Aboriginals’ name for the Southern Lights.

AAD Director Kim Ellis described the RSV Nuyina as a “Swiss army knife of marine capabilities”. It will help scientists better understand climate change. It will also help lessen the human impact and assist wildlife conservation in the polar regions.

After construction and sea trials in 2021, Nuyina left the waters of the Netherlands where the final phase of its construction took place. It then spent six weeks traveling to Hobart. Nuyina will begin the first of many trips to the South Pole during the Antarctic summer.

Photo Credit: Australian Antarctic Division (


About Australia’s New Icebreaker — RSV Nuyina (

Antarctic Shipping Update (

Australia’s New Icebreaker Name Providing Students with the Trip of a Lifetime (

Australia’s New Icebreaker – RSV Nuyina (

Birth of an Icebreaker (

History of Australian Antarctic Shipping (

Lauritzen ‘Dan’ Ships 1953–1987 (

MV Kista Dan 1953–1957 (

MV Magga Dan 1959–1961 (

MV Nella Dan 1962–1987 (

MV Thala Dan 1957–1982 (

RSV Aurora Australis 1989–2020 (

Scientific Capabilities of the RSV Nuyina (

Ships of Science (



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