Spare-Parts Shortage Puts New Icebreaker Nuyina Out of Service

Supply-chain issues for shaft couplings mean that the new vessel will likely miss a season

Nuyina (file image courtesy Serco)

Published Jul 8, 2022 8:13 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) has been forced to adjust its shipping plans for the 2022-23 Antarctic season after it emerged that Australia’s brand new icebreaker RSV Nuyina cannot undergo scheduled maintenance in time due to delays in receiving spare parts.

AAD said the icebreaker is unlikely to be in service for the upcoming season due to a delay in receiving spare parts and the discovery of more systems and mechanical problems in the futuristic vessel, which has been advertised as the world’s most advanced Antarctic icebreaking research and resupply ship.

RSV Nuyina has experienced systems and mechanical problems at least twice in the past. In October last year, the icebreaker suffered an electric fault in the electrical system that powers a propulsion motor on the port shaft line during its journey to its home port of Hobart. Two months later, the ship was forced to delay its maiden expedition to Antarctica after issues were detected in the vessel’s alarm and monitoring system software.

The ship, which arrived in Singapore in April for scheduled maintenance at the SembCorp Marine Admiralty Yard and was due back in Hobart in October, is likely to stay much longer at the yard due to a delay in receiving spare parts.

AAD, together with the ship’s operator Serco, has admitted that they have been resolving issues and making repairs as part of the normal commissioning process during the warranty period. The works include improvements to the hydraulic control system within the propulsion system clutches.

“While work has been progressing well on the clutches, an unexpected issue was discovered in the large couplings that connect the propulsion shafts with the clutches,” said Charlton Clark, AAD General Manager Operations and Safety.

He added that following initial investigations and testing, the manufacturer has determined that shaft couplings need to be replaced. “Delivery timeframes for replacement couplings are lengthy, driven to a large extent by material shortages and supply chain issues,” he said.

The resulting delay of several months means RSV Nuyina is unlikely to be available for resupply and science operations in the coming 2022-23 Antarctic season.

The 525-foot icebreaker is projected to cost the Australian government $1.4 billion to build, maintain and operate over the next 30 years. Its delivery was delayed by about one year due to COVID-19 disruptions.

The ship’s main mission is in Antarctic research and exploration. It is equipped with four permanent scientific laboratories and can accommodate an additional 20 containerized laboratories for specialized research projects that will evolve over coming decades. It can accommodate 117 personnel and 32 crew for 92 days at sea.

According to the AAD, the commissioning and trials phase of RSV Nuyina will continue for at least the first two years of its service, during which time the ship is under warranty with the shipbuilder.

Despite the initial mechanical and systems problems, the ship successfully undertook its first two Antarctic voyages earlier this year, resupplying stations and testing science systems.

The ship’s unavailability has forced AAD to secure the services of two icebreakers, Aiviq and an ice-strengthened cargo ship, for the upcoming season to transport critical cargo and bring expeditioners home. Aiviq, a 110-meter US icebreaking tug and supply vessel, had been chartered to refuel and resupply the stations last season and remains in Hobart for the season ahead.

“Change-over dates for the 90 expeditioners currently living and working at Australia’s four research stations in Antarctica and on Macquarie Island will remain much the same,” said Clark.

He added that planning for disruption and the unexpected is an important part of the Australian Antarctic Program, which had always planned the contingency during the commissioning and warranty phase for RSV Nuyina.