SA Agulhas on pre-COP cruise


The Department of Environmental and Water Affairs has released South Africa’s polar research and supply vessel – the SA Agulhas – on a symbolic ten-day climate change voyage ahead of COP17 in Durban.

The 30-year-old vessel set sail from Cape Town on Saturday with over 50 people on board who will raise awareness around climate change in the country’s coastal cities. There are also exhibitions, meetings and lectures taking place on board, showcasing various scientific activities undertaken by the department and its stakeholders in the Antactica and Southern Oceans, the state BuaNewsagency says.

The campaign will also reflect on the opportunities and threats posed by the ocean to coastal communities and “the real and considerable impact of oceans on the climate”.

Oceans and Coasts deputy director-general Monde Mayekiso, addressing the media and passengers just before departure on Saturday, said: “The Southern Ocean is regarded as key in understanding the processes of climate change. [As] the Southern Ocean is on South Africa’s doorstep…we have the ideal tool and platform to do cutting edge research.”

He announced that the SA Agulhas would be replaced with a new, modern and fuel efficient vessel by April. After COP17, the SA Agulhas will make a last voyage to the Antarctic before decommissioning.

The STX Rauma shipyard in Finland laid down the keel of the new vessel in February. The ship, numbered NB1369 for now, will be 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.

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