South Africa’s Historic Antarctic Vessel Delivered for New Lease on Life

South Africa training ship
S.A. Agulhas is an icebreaker that after her research career became a training ship (SAMSA)

Published Feb 2, 2024 8:45 PM by The Maritime Executive


A South African polar research vessel that was synonymous with Antarctica expeditions for decades and later became a much-loved training ship was delivered to her new owner on January 30 in Cape Town. The 47-year-old S.A. Agulhas is set for a new lease of life continuing her training as well as expeditions and tourism after being acquired by German firm J*S Maritime Partners.

The South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) announced that after years of trying to find a new owner for S.A. Agulhas, which over the past decade has been playing a pivotal role in the training of seafarers, J*S Maritime emerged as the ideal buyer. The ship was given an elaborate sendoff celebrating the launch of the new partnership for her future. 

SA Navy band during the celebration of the new partnership


New German owners took delivery this week in Cape Town


The Hamburg-based firm committed to repurposing the vessel to enable it to continue supporting marine research, in particular the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development program. J*S Maritime is an official partner of the program that seeks to identify, generate, and use critical ocean knowledge to manage the vast waters sustainably.

“We will start a larger German-South African bilateral cooperation, the ‘Sea Experience’ project, which will begin with a cadet training partnership program and employment and will be followed by other cooperations and support for the South African maritime cluster, for marine, environmental and climate research, marine technology, research voyages and sustainable tourism in South Africa,” said Capt. Stefan Bülow, who founded J*S Maritime in 2018. 

The vessel is a 6,100-ton icebreaker. She is 367 feet (112 meters) in length. SAMSA acquired S.A. Agulhas in 2011 after more than three decades of polar research under the ownership of the South African National Antarctic Program (SANAP). During her first career, S.A. Agulhas built in Japan served as a supply vessel to the three SANAP research stations in the Southern Ocean and Antarctica as well as doing various research voyages. 

The ship also carried out numerous rescue missions, with the most famous being the rescue of Magdalena Oldendorff in 2002. The vessel had become stuck in the ice during severe weather conditions while en route from a Russian Antarctic base to Cape Town.



In 2012, the steel-hulled, ice-strengthened vessel built in 1977, was retired from polar supply missions and replaced by the ultra-modern icebreaking ship SA Agulhas II. She took on her new role as a training vessel but after six years SAMSA decided that she was too costly to continue to operate. In addition, she requires much-needed overhauls and updating. 

The new owner of S.A. Agulhas has committed to invest in a complete refurbishment of the vessel to prepare her for the new roles that will include chartering for research missions and polar tourism. The company reports it will invest at least $55 million for this conversion into a modern polar explorer with the plan calling for thruster repairs, hull repairs and repainting, ballast water tank work, as well as an upgrade of the sewage system and refurbishing of the cabins. The engines will be overhauled with an eye to running the ship on methanol or green methanol.