Tasmania has hosted many of the most important ships that have ventured to Antarctica. In December 1987 one of these ships, the Nella Dan, ended its journey when it ran aground at Buckles Bay, Macquarie Island.
Nella Dan was a Danish ice breaker built in 1961 for J. Lauritzen company, with input from the Australian Antarctic Division. It was named after Nel Law, the wife of the director of the Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition (ANARE). Nel was the first Australian woman to travel to Antarctica. The Nella Dan made 125 voyages to the Arctic and Antarctic between 1961 and 1987.
The little red ship was on a re-supply visit to Macquarie Island when bad weather pushed it onto the rocks. The crew and passengers were all seen safely off the ship. After efforts to salvage equipment and remove oil that would pose an environmental threat, the ship was towed out to deep water and scuttled.
As the Tasmanian state government does not have much of a role in Antarctic expeditions, the state archives does not hold many records on this event. However, we were able to find a few notes and photographs in a file of reports of the resulting oil spill from the Parks and Wildlife service. Over several days the rangers on Macquarie Island monitored the effects of oil washing in over the beaches on the plant and animal life of the coastline.
Efforts were made to remove oil from the ship before it could leak into the water. Crews pumped oil back to tanks on Macquarie Island, and a lot of the damaging waste was removed. Although the incident still produced a moderate oil spill, favourable winds washed most of it out to sea, and damage was limited to the inhabitants of the rock pools along a stretch of coast. Birds and other larger animals were closely watched, particularly those that picked off the dead fish and molluscs washed onto the beach. Luckily they were largely unaffected.
Nella Dan was much loved by her former crews, and has been honoured by several memorials. She was replaced by the Aurora Australis, that great orange ship that is such a regular visitor to Hobart’s port.
Hobart as an Antarctic port
One of the first Antarctic ships to use Tasmania’s ports was Captain John Biscoe’s brig Tula, which landed in Hobart after circumnavigating Antarctica in 1832. Interest increased in the area with the growing industries of sealing and whaling. Expeditions were launched with the mixed motivations of money, science and the glory of discovery.
As tribute to the Nella Dan, we’ve put together a gallery of some of the most important ships in the history of Antarctic discovery.