The STX Rauma shipyard in Finland has laid down the keel of the Antarctic research and supply vessel ordered by the Department of Environmental Affairs to replace the SA Agulhas in 2012.
NB1369 is a multipurpose vessel that will operate as a supply, research and passenger ship as well as an icebreaker. The ice-strengthened vessel will be approximately 134 metres long, 23 metres wide and will accommodate a crew of 45 and some 100 researchers or passengers. In contrast, the SA Agulhas has a crew of 40 and can carry 98 researchers or passengers.
The keel-laying ceremony on Monday was attended by representatives of the South African Department of Environmental Affairs; the Embassy of South Africa in Finland; South African Maritime Safety Authority; the classification society Det Norske Veritas (which verifies construction techniques) and STX Finland. The company belongs to the international STX Europe group and has three shipyards in Finland.
The main purpose of the vessel will be to act as a logistics support vessel for South African research stations in Antarctica and on Marion and Gough islands. The SA Agulhas currently services the three bases in the Southern Ocean and Antarctica as part of the SA National Antarctic Programme (SANAP).
Unlike the SA Agulhas, the new vessel will also have facilities for carrying out oceanographic research and geological seabed surveys. Eight hundred square metres has been set aside for laboratories and on-deck research areas in addition to a 4000 cubic metre cargo hold. The ship will continuously monitor weather conditions for the South African weather services by deploying weather balloons and weather buoys during certain voyages.
The vessel will also operate internationally as a passenger ship for some 150 people and will feature a gym, library and small hospital. In addition, it will be able to carry and launch two Oryx helicopters.
The ship will be able to spend several months at sea and will have a top speed of 14 knots. It will be able to travel through 1 metre thick ice at a speed of 5 knots, which is faster than the SA Agulhas.
The SA Agulhas is due to be retired in April 2012 and later sold. The SA Agulhas was laid down in 1977 by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Japan, and is nearing the end of its term of service. In November 2009 the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs (now the Department of Environmental Affairs) signed a 116 million Euro deal with STX Finland Oy to build its replacement. The company beat competing bids from Astillero Barreras of Spain, Damen Shipyards of the Netherlands and Keppelsingmarine from Singapore.
After winning the contract, STX Finland began a detailed engineering phase before the first steel was cut on September 9 last year. The deal is the Finnish company’s first shipbuilding project for a South African client and part of its long-term strategy to break into the African market.
“The design and construction process at the STX Rauma shipyard has advanced exactly as planned, and the co-operation between the shipyard, client, classification agency, flag authority, and every material and equipment supplier has gone exceptionally well,” commends Timo Suistio, Director of the STX Rauma shipyard.
“The project will provide STX Rauma shipyard personnel and the partners involved valuable experience and expertise in designing and building demanding special vessels, which will be an advantage when competing for future vessel orders,” Suistio continues.