Australia’s $528 million icebreaking research vessel has suffered another setback and will not resupply the remote Macquarie Island station in the coming months as originally planned, with a chartered vessel taking its place.
The Romanian-built ship, RSV Nuyina, significantly enhances Australia’s climate research capabilities in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, but has faced numerous problems since its delivery in 2021. which in turn was delayed about a year due to the pandemic.
Nuyina’s first voyage to Antarctica was delayed due to problems with her alarm system in late 2021. Problems were then detected before she reached Casey Station and months later during repairs to her clutch system, the manufacturer Damen determined that the shaft couplings needed to be replaced.
The Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) had planned for Nuyina to refuel the remote station on Macquarie Island in March, while picking up returning expedition members, but the division has confirmed that the chartered icebreaker Aiviq will now do so.
“Like all new and complex ships, Nuyina will require time for commissioning as it prepares to serve Australia’s scientific efforts in the Antarctic and Southern Ocean for decades to come,” an AAD spokesperson said.
“While Nuyina was due to return to Australia in March, she is now expected to return in April and as part of contingency planning Aiviq will be making the journey to Macquarie Island.
“Aiviq may also be available for a subsequent trip to the island as a contingency.”
Guardian Australia has been told that the move from Nuyina to the smaller Aiviq will delay some scientific research on Macquarie Island, due to a lack of accommodation on board. The AAD did not respond to questions about the impact on the investigation.
Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson said the public deserved more transparency about who was paying for ongoing repairs and how the ship’s absence had affected scientific research.
“Australia’s multi-billion dollar icebreaker only hit the water in late 2021, but it has spent as much time in maintenance and repairs as it has in service to Australia’s Antarctic science missions,” Whish-Wilson said.
“The AAD has been chronically under-resourced by successive federal governments for decades, resulting in fragmented Antarctic research and uncertainty in the scientific community.
“A $528 million-plagued expedition ship is the last thing the fragile Antarctic Division needs.”
Nuyina is under warranty during its commissioning and test stages, which are expected to last around two years. An AAD spokesperson confirmed that the vessel would also remain under warranty “during maintenance in Singapore.”
When the AAD realized that Nuyina would be unavailable for most of the summer term, it chartered the 110-meter US icebreaker Aiviq as a replacement, for an undisclosed cost. The Dutch-flagged 157-meter cargo ship Happy Dragon was also chartered.
Aiviq may not be available in the long term, with The US Coast Guard is reportedly interested in chartering it. Alaska later this year.
Nuyina, named after an indigenous word for southern lights, contains a unique 13-meter “moon pool”, which allows robotic craft to be deployed through the hull.
In addition to built-in labs, it can be equipped with modular labs in shipping containers. She replaces the icebreaker Aurora Australis, which retired from her role in March 2020 after 30 years.
The handover of the ship was cited as a watershed moment for the AAD in Director Kim Ellis’s letter of resignation to staff Monday night.
“The last four years have been some of the most challenging for the division; a global pandemic, the end of service of the Aurora Australis, the introduction of new contingency ships and the Nuyina, two government change machines, a new direction for science and operations, and major changes created by the funding review sustainability and its implementation,” Ellis wrote.