Cargo Ship Australia Chartered to Run Supplies to Antarctic Grounds

supply ship grounds in Antarctic
Happy Diamond during one of her supply missions to the Antarctic (Australian Antarctic Program photos)

Published Feb 20, 2023 7:16 PM by The Maritime Executive

Australia’s beleaguered 2022-2023 Antarctic season reportedly has experienced another problem in what has been a challenging year for the scientific missions and resupply to the country’s outposts.  A chartered heavy lift cargo vessel that is being used as a stand-in for the supply missions briefly grounded causing damages and she is now back to Hobart, Australia for repairs.

The challenges for the season began when Australia’s new multi-million dollar icebreaker and research vessel was sidelined by mechanical issues. The vessel was delivered in late 2021 but began experiencing a series of issues during its commission. It was delayed on its missions to the Antarctic in 2022 due to issues with a monitoring and alarm system. Then it was determined that it required repairs on its clutch system heading to dry dock in Singapore where additional issues were uncovered with the shaft couplings that also need replacing. While the Australian Antarctic Division highlights that issues are not uncommon when commissioning such a complex ship, the RSV Nuyina it was determined due to supply issues that she would miss the entire season this year.

The solution was to charter a smaller icebreaker, Multi Purpose Offshore Vessel the Aiviq (4,100 dwt) starting in 2021 to supplement the operation with two voyages. The American registered vessel owned by Edison Chouest Offshore was again hired along with a heavy lift cargo ship to complete the 2022-2023 missions. The cargo ship is the 17,250 dwt Happy Diamond, a 515-foot long vessel operated by BigLift Shipping with an ice-strengthened hull. Registered in the Netherlands, the vessel was assigned to ferry supplies on the demanding route between Hobart, Australia and Australia’s outposts in Antarctica. 

The third mission began in early November with the Happy Diamond and the Aiviq sailing with 11 expeditioners and 19 crew as well as two helicopters and cargo bound for the Davis station in Antarctica. The Happy Diamond however experienced mechanical problems. She returned to Hobart about two weeks later to have electrical components replaced.


Happy Diamond and Aiviq together during one of their supply missions (photo courtesy of Australian Antarctic Program)

The latest mission began in late January with the two vessels leaving Hobart bound for the stations including a visit to Mawson, which is Australia’s most remote Antarctic station. The vessels had completed resupply efforts at Australia’s Casey and Davis stations and proceeded to Mawson where during the supply operation the Happy Diamond grounded on a shoal on Sunday morning, February 19. She was able to float free after about an hour and no one was injured aboard the ship. 

"Minor damage occurred to a ballast water tank," according to an Australian Antarctic Division spokesperson. "The vessel's operator has assessed that there is no danger posed to personnel, the vessel, or the environment. Ongoing monitoring and assessments will continue."

The Happy Diamond now is returning to Hobart where she will undergo repairs. The AIS signal says she will reach the port a week from Tuesday, on February 28. The icebreaker Aiviq escorted the Happy Diamond through the sea ice to open water before returning to the station. 

Based on the current repair schedule, AAD is not expected their new flagship Nuyina to reach Australia till April. They note that she will also require time for commissioning before she takes up her research missions in the Southern Ocean and returns to Antarctica next season for research and supply.