SA Agulhas II en route to Marion Island


With her maiden voyages to Antarctica and Gough Island successfully completed, SA Agulhas II this week departed Cape Town headed for Marion Island for the first time.

The Department of Environmental Affairs’ new polar research vessel is ferrying a 19-strong team of meteorologists, conservationists and support personnel to the South African base on the Southern Ocean island.

She departed Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront on Wednesday and is expected back in her home port on May 16.

In February the new vessel returned to Cape Town after the first three month supply voyage to the frozen continent.

The SA Agulhas II has taken over from the 34 year-old SA Agulhas as South Africa’s new Antarctic research and supply vessel, supporting and undertaking research in Antarctica and on Marion and Gough Islands. Built in Finland, Agulhas II arrived in her home port last May. The first voyage she undertook under full South African command was a 26 day shakedown cruise to the edge of the ice shelf in Antarctica at the beginning of August.

The Marion Island maiden voyage is the third and final of her future regular transits to and from South African research sites in the Southern Ocean. Agulhas II successfully completed her maiden supply voyage to Gough Island in October last year.

Agulhas II was built by the STX Finland Rauma Shipyard and departed Finland for South Africa last April. She arrived in Cape Town at the beginning of May last year to take over polar and other Southern Ocean duties from the SA Agulhas, now in service as a training vessel.

At around 20 metres longer than the SA Agulhas (for a total length of 134 metres), the new ship is significantly bigger than her predecessor. While the number of passengers carried (100) is similar, the new ship has a vastly increased scientific capability. There are eight permanent laboratories, plus six containerised laboratories, making 14 laboratories in total. When undertaking logistic cruises all six container laboratories are removed to make space for more cargo. SA Agulhas II is also more powerful than her predecessor with the ability to break one metre thick ice at five knots.

Special research facilities aboard include a 2.4 m x 2.4 m moon pool, installed in the environmental hangar and extending through to the ship’s keel. It has hydraulically operated upper and lower hatches used to deploy and recover sampling devices when working in pack ice.

Another feature is the drop keel, a device housing a variety of sound transducers. When steaming in open water the keel is lowered to protrude three metres under the ship placing transducers below the turbulence created by the hull. When navigating in ice the unit is retracted flush with the ship’s bottom, reducing the risk of ice damage. A big advantage of the drop keel is it allows the keel to be withdrawn into the trunk to a height allowing access to the transducers from inside the ship eliminating the need to dry dock for transducer maintenance.

The laboratories and research facilities aboard SA Agulhas II will allow for extensive, deepwater oceanographic and geological research voyages. They will also facilitate rebuilding of South Africa’s deepwater oceanographic capabilities leading to more participation in international research cruises.