After 31 years of service, the Australian Antarctic Division's (AAD) RSV Aurora Australis vessel has embarked on its last voyage south, marking the end of an era for the affectionately nicknamed "Orange Roughy".
The aim of the last voyage will be to re-supply sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island with 12 months worth of cargo, food and fuel.
Built in Newcastle and launched in 1989 by Hazel Hawke with the words "may she sail long and well, and may good fortune go with all who sail on her", the Aurora Australis has been home to 14,000 expeditioners, many undertaking key research.
AAD's general manager of operations Charlton Clark said it was the end of an era
The Aurora Australis has been the backbone of the Australian Antarctic Program for more than three decades, so the vessel has a special place in our history," Mr Clark said. "Over its lifetime, the icebreaker has carried more than 14,000 expeditioners across the Southern Ocean on over 150 research and resupply voyages.
The AAD's Robb Clifton is one who will take away fond memories of his journeys on the Aurora Australis.
"It's amazing when you travel through the Southern Ocean and perhaps for many, see their first iceberg from the bridge, see the wildlife and then see the sea ice of the Antarctic continent," he said. "I've spent a lot of time on board myself and have some really fantastic memories … travelling through the Southern Ocean, often with fantastic communities of people."
Mr Clifton said the ship's role in exploring the ocean ecosystem and the predator/prey interactions of the remote and wild seas around Heard Island was a highlight. "It's helped science uncover amazing new information about the role of the Southern Ocean, its food web and also the science that underpins our efforts in understanding a changing climate."
New ship not ready
The AAD's replacement icebreaker, the Dutch-built RSV Nuyina, is facing delays and will now embark on its first trip in January 2021.
It is being constructed in Romania, and is expected to perform a central role in the division's activities.
In the meantime, the Antarctic program will need another vessel to get it through much of the next summer season.
The Australian Antarctic Division's general manager of operations, Charlton Clark, said the division had been through the tender process.
"We've gone out to the market to test vessel availability for the coming season," Mr Clark said.
The future of the Aurora Australis is still unknown and will ultimately be decided by the vessel's owner, P&O Maritime.