Australian Icebreaker Transits 4,000 NM for Antarctic Medevac Case

One of Nuyina's two helicopters returns from the successful medevac flight (AAD)

Published Sep 4, 2023 6:20 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Australian icebreaker Nuyina is undertaking an ultra-long-distance rescue mission to medevac one person from the Casey Antarctic research station, which lies about 1,900 nautical miles away from the vessel's home base in Tasmania. 

According to the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD), a researcher at the remote base was suffering from an unspecified medical condition and needed advanced care. The base's airstrip is closed in the southern hemisphere's winter, given the snowdrifts and harsh weather, leaving medevac by ship as the only available option. Other Antarctic research programs did not have assets available to help, according to the division.

Nuyina left Hobart, Tasmania on August 24 (GMT) and got under way for Casey station, making about 14 knots. She had three medical personnel aboard to tend to the patient while under way, including a specialist from Royal Hobart Hospital, the AAD told Australian media.

By September 1, she had made the crossing and maneuvered through drifting ice to a position within 80 nm of the station. This was within helicopter range, and Nuyina's crew dispatched two helicopters (a primary and a backup) to retrieve the patient. The crew benefited from a favorable weather window, and the helicopters successfully retrieved the individual and returned to the ship. Nuyina got under way once more on September 3, headed northeast towards Tasmania. 

"It's the earliest we've ever gone to an Antarctic station — just a day or two after the official end of winter," Australian Antarctic Division operations manager Robb Clifton told ABC Australia. "We were really only able to attempt it because of the fantastic capabilities the Nuyina gives us in terms of icebreaking and aircraft capability."

Nuyina will have transited about one-quarter of her maximum range by the time she returns. If she wishes to refuel, she will have to make a second trip several hundred miles around Tasmania. The ship is too large to pass under Hobart's Tasman Bridge, so she cannot reach her local fuel pier - even though it is just two miles away from her berth at the AAD base.