SA receives SA Agulhas II polar research ship


South Africa’s new polar research and supply ship, the SA Agulhas II, arrived at its homeport of Cape Town yesterday morning.

Built by the STX Finland Rauma Shipyard, she departed Rauma in Finland for South Africa on April 6. The SA Agulhas II will take 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.

At the arrival ceremony, Edna Molewa, Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, said that the “arrival ceremony of the SA Agulhas II completes a journey our government started back in 2005 when the decision to acquire a new polar ship was taken.
“The SA Agulhas II provides South Africa with a golden opportunity to address important issues facing us. These include protection of our population and property from extreme weather events, such as increasing frequency and severity of storms, and climate impacts on biodiversity. The ship will enable us to go to Antarctica and the Southern Ocean to conduct oceanography and biodiversity work…We will use our endeavours in the Southern ocean in order to contribute to the fortunes of the continent,” Molewa said.
“Our geographic proximity, at the tip of the continent and immediately adjacent to the Antarctic and Southern Ocean means South Africa is a natural Antarctic gateway. Currently there are eight countries using South Africa as a springboard from which to launch their Antarctic expeditions and regular flights between South Africa and Antarctica. These provide South Africa with significant global competitive advantage,” she continued.
“SA Agulhas II was designed from scratch as a sophisticated scientific platform”, said Henry Valentine, Director: Antarctic and Islands at the Department of Environmental Affairs. “She will not only take over the logistic responsibilities of the old ship, but she will also do scientific research because she has all the scientific equipment to so that,” Valentine added.
“This ship is particularly well equipped to do climate change research. The big advantage is the Southern Ocean is on our doorstep. The Southern Ocean is key to understanding the climate change processes.”

Molewa emphasised the SA Agulhas II’s role in understanding climate change. “With the arrival of this new ship specifically designed and equipped for climate change research, we have the appropriate tool…Today our scientific efforts are redoubling as we turn to Antarctica for answers to one of the great challenges of our time – understanding and adapting to changes in our climate, ecosystems and oceans as a result of our high carbon dioxide emitting lifestyles. The search to understand the drivers and impacts of a changing climate leads inexorably to Antarctica and the southern ocean, which we now understand are sentinels of global change,” she said.
“Every citizen of this country will be affected by climate change. It poses a threat to our food security, vulnerable coastal properties and communities. It is therefore the responsible thing to do to invest in resources like this ship that will assist in us having better prediction, mitigation and adaptation capability,” the minister said.

At around 20 meters 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, the 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 meter thick ice at five knots.
“That is significant for the scientists,” Valentine emphasis, “what that means is that we can go earlier in the season to Antarctica and come back later. It gives the scientists an extended research period.”

Special research facilities aboard the SA Agulhas II include a 2.4 m x 2.4 m Moon Pool, installed in the Environmental Hangar and extending through to the ship’s bottom. It has hydraulically operated upper and lower hatches which can be used to deploy and recover sampling devices when working in the pack ice.

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

The ship is also equipped with a hanger capable of taking two medium-sized helicopters.

Freddie Ligthelm, captain of the SA Agulhas II, said that, “the 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.”

The SA Agulhas II has been designed to be at sea for up to 300 days per year, 180 days for logistic support and 120 days for dedicated research cruises.

From a safety point of view, the SA Agulhas II is the first ship built in accordance with the International Maritime Organisation’s (IMO) latest Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Safety Regulations for passenger ships.

The ship has the following public facilities for crew and passengers:
• 100 seat Auditorium for the purpose of lectures and presentations
• Business Centre with eight workstations and printing facilities
• Officers lounge
• Two Passenger lounges, each seating 50 persons
• Crew Lounge
• Passenger and Crew Gymnasiums, with Saunas
• Dining saloons and Duty Mess

At the arrival ceremony, the SA Agulhas II was also officially dedicated to the life and work of singer Miriam Makeba.
“I wish to thank the Department for keeping alive the memory of Mama Afrika through this dedication of this vessel to her work and life. Just occasionally history produces a citizen whose impact on people of a country and the world is so profound that this continues long beyond his or her physical demise. One such rare individual was the late Miriam Makeba whose impact was so profound that she became more than a citizen of this country, but that of the world,” said Molewa.

Molewa explained that, “this will ensure that, as she cruises the high seas and breaks through ice in the Southern Ocean, the memory and spirit of this great African icon and citizen of the world continues to live in our memories for generations to come. Mama Africa was a citizen of the world and like her this new vessel will be operating in the international arena.”

The contract to build the new polar supply ship was awarded to STX Finland in November 2009. First steel was cut in September 2010 and a block laying ceremony was held in January 2011. The new ship was floated in September 2011 and sea and ice trials commenced in March 2012. Formal handover to the Department of Environmental Affairs occurred on April 4.

Its logistic commitments include the servicing of the SANAE base on the Antarctic mainland and the bases on Marion and Gough.

The laboratories and research facilities will allow for extensive, deepwater oceanographic and geological research voyages. They will also facilitate the rebuilding of South Africa’s deepwater oceanographic capabilities and will result in a high degree of international participation in research cruises.

The older SA Agulhas will not disappear from the South African coast, however. She set sail for Marion Island on April 12 and upon her return to South Africa from Antarctica in September, she will transfer to another government department and continue in a new role. During three decades of service, SA Agulhas travelled about 1.5 million kilometres and made a total of 158 voyages.