SA Agulhas II returns from maiden Antarctica voyage


The Department of Environmental Affairs polar research vessel SA Agulhas II arrived back in Cape Town on Tuesday having successfully completed its maiden supply voyage to Antarctica.

She replaced the 32-year-old SA Agulhas in May 2012. Departing the Cape for the Antarctica on December 6, 2012, SA Agulhas II stopped at South Georgia Island before returning with SANAE Team 51 members.

The ship demonstrated her ice-breaking capabilities in brittle sea ice off Finland where she was built. The ice in the Antarctic is denser and has pressure ridges which the new polar research vessel handled without difficulties.

In an address delivered on behalf of Oceans and Coasts Deputy Director General, Dr Monde Mayekiso, it was noted oceanic ice conditions last year were “disastrous” for a number of countries, including South Africa. As a result, a lot of cargo was left behind.
“During this voyage,” it was noted, “because of the increased power and capacity of the new ship, we managed to retrieve the cargo and bring it safely back to Cape Town. We are pleased we could assist Finland, Sweden and Germany with transporting their cargo and equipment.”

After a number of years of absence, three different Earth Science projects with field parties were undertaken. This increased the logistics and associated risks, but all parties returned to the SANAE IV base with good results.

One of the projects involved collaboration between the University of KwaZulu-Natal, the SA National Space Agency and the University of California (supported by NASA). This involved launching massive balloons with instrumentation weighing more than 50kg. This was used to measure election scatter in the Earth’s atmosphere during 13 successful launches.

Research was carried out by South African and Finnish universities on the impact of ice, noise and vibration during ice-breaking, whilst buoys were deployed and Automatic Weather Stations serviced on the South Sandwich Islands on behalf of the SA Weather Service.

The nine SANAE Team 51 members departed for Antarctica on the old SA Agulhas and after two Christmases and New Years on the white continent were elated to see family and friends again. Also on board were scientists and researchers who joined the Agulhas II on her maiden Southern Ocean voyage.

The SA Agulhas II takes 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 and having arrived in its home port of Cape Town on May 3 2012, the vessel returned from a 26 day shakedown cruise to the edge of the ice shelf in Antarctica at the beginning of August. She successfully completed its maiden supply voyage to Gough Island in October 2012.