Two companies, one Australian and one Norwegian, have been contracted to support Australia's Antarctic Program over the next three years.

Australia's first ice-breaker RSV Aurora Australis, owned by P&O Polar, together with the Norweigian MV Polar Bird , owned by Polar Shipping, have successfully bid to support the Antarctic Program in an international tendering process.

"The use of two ships will allow greater flexibility in planning logistical support for antarctic science as well as providing enhanced marine science capability" the Director of the Australian Antarctic Division, Dr Tony Press, said today.

The announcement comes at a time when the Australian Antarctic Division is investigating the suitability of an intercontinental air link between Australia and Antarctica. Any air transport system would be subjected to environmental impact assessments before being introduced in stages over a few years.

"In the meantime, the shipping contracts are vital in supporting important antarctic research", Dr Press said.

In recent years, Aurora Australis has suffered mechanical breakdowns and two fires, but Dr Press is confident such problems will not recur. "The vessel has been thoroughly overhauled, and the causes of the fires identified. I am satisfied that these problems have been rectified and the ship is well equipped to carry out our research program.

"Aurora Australis has played a major role in conducting our research program over the past 10 years and I am looking forward to continung our association with P&O."

Background information

Australia's Antarctic research and supply vessel RSV Aurora Australis was launched in Newcastle in 1989 and commissioned into antarctic service in April 1990. Aurora Australis, the first Australian-owned, built and crewed icebreaker, is chartered by the Australian Antarctic Division from P&O Polar Australia.

Aurora Australis, besides carrying expeditioners and cargo, is a sophisticated marine research vessel. Scientific facilities include electronic detection and measuring devices, deep ocean sampling instruments, trawling gear and specialised computer hardware and software.

The ship is also used to carry cargo for land-based operations. It has a general cargo hold and bulk tanks for cargo fuel (for station power generation, vehicles and other use in Antarctica). Most cargo is transported in 2.4m or 8m containers. The hangar can accommodate two medium lift helicopters, which can be operated from an adjacent helicopter deck.

Aurora Australis has an environmentally safe hull - there are two thicknesses of steel between the sea and any potential contaminant. Bow and stern thrusters and a joystick-controlled manoeuvring system enable the vessel to be positioned accurately in confined waters.

The Norwegian MV Polar Bird, the world's first purpose-built polar resupply vessel, was built in Germany in 1984 and originally launched as MV Icebird. She was chartered for the Australian Antarctic Program each summer season from 1984–85 to 1994–95 for the summer season, and occasionally since then.

MV Polar Bird's special purpose design incorporates two holds with living quarters aft. Two 40 tonne capacity cranes capable of working in tandem operations and lifting up to 75 tonnes, assist in resupply functions. All deck machinery can operate in temperatures down to minus 35°C , necessary for antarctic cargo operations. MV Polar Bird's helicopter facilitates allow for use of the larger "Sea King" helicopter enabling long range "fly-offs" for resupply.

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