SA Agulhas II handed over to South Africa


The SA Agulhas II polar supply and research vessel was handed over to the South African government yesterday and is on the way to her new home in Cape Town. She is scheduled to arrive in South Africa on May 3.

The STX Rauma shipyard in Finland delivered the vessel to the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) during a ceremony yesterday. Representatives from the DEA as well as the Embassy of South Africa in Finland, The South African Maritime Authority, classification society Det Norske Veritas and STX Finland were there to witness the flag-changing ceremony.
“It is with honour and pride that we receive the SA Agulhas II as planned from STX Finland,” said the ship’s Captain Freddie Ligthelm. “An exciting voyage lies ahead of us as we make our way south to the ship’s new home in Cape Town, South Africa. The ship’s sea trials and ice trials went well and she proved to be a good ice going ship. We use the ship to carry scientists and research equipment for the South African National Antarctic Programme in the sea area between South Africa, the Antarctic Islands and Antarctica. The new ship’s ability in ice covered waters will shorten journey times to the Antarctic Ice Shelf and will allow for onboard scientific research in the Southern Oceans during winter months.”
“We are proud to deliver this technically high-class multipurpose vessel to the client,” said the director of STX Rauma Shipyard, Toivo Ilvonen. “The project has offered valuable experience and expertise in the design and building of demanding polar research and supply vessels to the personnel of STX Rauma shipyard and all our partners involved in the project.”

SA Agulhas II recently completed a series of ice trials in the north of the Bay of Bothnia, returning to port in Finland on March 24, after having sailed from Rauma on 19 March. The trials have been described as very successful, with the ship having behaved beyond expectation. The purpose of the trials was to make a range of measurements while the vessel was navigating in ice, reports. In addition to measuring the thickness and density of the ice, load cells fitted in various compartments on the ship measured the actual load on the hull and propulsion system.

The DEA, STX Finland, Aalto and Oulu Universities Finland, Stellenbosch University, Aker Arctic, Det Norske Veritas (DNV), Wartsila and Rolls Royce participated in the exercise. The experiment will continue during the ship’s first SANAE Relief Voyage in December 2012.

In November 2009 the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs (as it then was) signed a 116 million Euro (R1.3 billion) deal with STX Finland Oy to build a replacement for the SA Agulhas. The company beat competing bids from Astillero Barreras of Spain, Damen Shipyards of the Netherlands and Keppelsingmarine from Singapore.

The first steel for the SA Agulhas II was cut in September 2010 and the ship had its keel laid down in Finland in February last year. It was launched on July 21. The multipurpose vessel will operate as a supply, research and passenger ship as well as an icebreaker.

The ship is approximately 134 metres long, 23 metres wide and has accommodation for 45 crew and some 100 researchers or passengers. In contrast, the SA Agulhas has a crew of 40 and can carry 98 researchers or passengers.

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 ship’s focus will be on supporting the operations of the South African National Antarctic Expedition (SANAE) base, which researches physical, earth and life sciences. The ship will be carrying supplies, personnel and researchers for the base, as well as supporting the Marion and Gough islands.
“The arrival of the new SA Agulhas II…heralds in a new and exciting period for researchers,” said Dr Monde Mayekiso, DEA Director-General: Oceans & Coasts, late last year. “The Southern Ocean ‘on the doorstep’ of South Africa so to speak, acts for a large part as a carbon zinc – drawing excess atmospheric carbon into the ocean. It is therefore key in understanding the processes of climate change. This ship is particularly well equipped to do climate change research. She does not only provide an excellent scientific platform for South African researchers, but will draw international experts to participate in research projects of national interest. A number of enquiries and requests have already been received from prominent scientists from a number of countries. This bodes very well for another objective/motivation for this vessel, that is, to rebuild deep sea oceanographic and marine geo-science, in particular, capacity in South Africa.”

The SA Agulhas returned to Cape Town on March 3 after its final polar voyage. The members of the SANAE over-wintering team were present as the ship arrived back at the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront in Cape Town, after having departed for Antarctica on December 8 last year.
“The Agulhas had a good stretch; it is 32 years old,” said environmental affairs spokesman Zolile Nqayi. The ship made a total of 39 trips to Antarctica since 1978.

The SA Agulhas is due to be retired this month and later sold. She was laid down in 1977 by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Japan.