SA inks R1.3bn polar research ship deal


Shipbuilder STX Finland Oy is to build a replacement (pictured) for South Africa’s venerable Antarctic research ship, the SA Agulhas for 116 million euro

The SA Agulhas, built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Japan has been in service 31 years.

STX beat competing bids from Astillero Barreras of Spain, Damen Shipyards of the Netherlands and Keppelsingmarine from Singapore,
“The new ship will, like the SA Agulhas, have to perform the crucial annual relief and supply function to the three remote stations Marion Island, Gough Island and SANAE (South African research base) in Antarctica,” the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs said in a statement ovenight.

According to the shipbuilder’s website, the ship will be built at the Rauma shipyard in Finland and delivered in April 2012.

The 134m icebreaker will carry facilities for two Oryx-class medium utility helicopters and will feature a gym, library and a small hospital.

Unlike the SA Agulhas, the new vessel will also have facilities for research on climate change and deep sea oceanography. Eight hundred square metres has been set aside for laboratories and on-deck research areas.

The ship will accommodate 45 crew and 100 passengers.

The department’s Antarctica director Henry Valentine said the investment reflected government’s commitment to the South African Antarctic Programme.

The department’s chief director of Antarctic research, Dr Johan Augustyn, added the new ship “will be able to break through thicker ice at higher speeds (than the Agulhas), which will extend our Antarctic season by about a month.
“It will be a more effective tool and not cost much more to maintain than the Agulhas as it has three times as much power while being more fuel-efficient,” he added.

Marine and Coastal Management project manager Alan Robertson said the next step in the vessel’s construction was its detailed engineering before the first steel would be cut in September next year.

Valentine said the Agulhas was still in good shape and was put through a rigorous test of her seafaring condition last year and “passed with flying colours”, Business Day reports.
“We have great confidence that the ship will be able to operate well beyond the new vessel’s delivery date,” he said. After the department takes delivery of the new vessel, the SA Agulhas will be sold.

STX shipyard director Timo Suistio said the deal was 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.
“Our will is to make this vessel into a postcard of our ability and use it as a reference for future jobs,” he said.

Marine and Coastal Management deputy director-general Dr Monde Mayekiso said the vessel had not yet been given a name.