Australia’s $528m Antarctic Icebreaker Too Big to Fit Under Tasman Bridge for Refueling

Tasmania’s concerns about the safety of Australia’s new $528m icebreaking Antarctic research vessel have been proven right as permission was denied for the ship to travel underneath the Tasman bridge in Hobart for refueling. Instead, the vessel will have to sail hundreds of kilometers north to another port. The 160m-long RSV Nuyina, responsible for resupplying Australia’s three Antarctic stations and conducting crucial climate research, is currently berthed at Hobart’s Macquarie Wharf, south of the bridge. However, its refueling station at Selfs Point is located just a short distance upstream on the other side of the bridge.

TasPorts, the port authority of Tasmania, had expressed concerns in the past about the ship’s size and its ability to safely pass beneath the bridge, despite assurances from the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD). TasPorts had suggested that the vessel could be permitted to pass under the bridge only after completing training courses and simulation exercises at the Australian Maritime College.

Confirming the denial of permission, an AAD spokesperson stated, “The AAD has received advice from TasPorts that RSV Nuyina is not permitted under the Tasman Bridge to refuel at Selfs Point.” As a result, the vessel will be required to sail to Burnie on the north-west coast of Tasmania to receive fuel, a necessary step before every voyage to Antarctica.

In light of this development, the AAD is working with the Tasmanian government to explore long-term refueling options in Hobart. These options could be considered in the future redevelopment of the Macquarie Point precinct, which is set to include a multi-purpose stadium to support Tasmania’s inaugural AFL team.

RSV Nuyina’s first voyage to Antarctica took place in January 2022 after the delivery of the Romanian-built ship was delayed due to the pandemic. The AAD has previously claimed that the vessel complies with the physical limitations specified by TasPorts for transiting under the Tasman Bridge.

This denial from TasPorts is the latest setback for the icebreaker, which has already faced delays and repairs leading to the cancellation of major scientific expeditions. The vessel’s problems have also affected plans to provide support to the remote Macquarie Island research station.

Next month, a senate inquiry into the funding and operation of the AAD will commence, partly triggered by Guardian Australia’s revelation of plans to cut numerous critical climate science projects due to budgetary constraints.