South Africa’s newest modern research and supply ship, SA Agulhas II, was officially handed over to the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), following the successful completion of outfitting details and ice and sea trials.
The R1.3-billion vessel, which was delivered within budget and on schedule, was replacing the 33-year-old SA Agulhas, which returned to South African shores in March, to be used for closer-to-shore projects.
During a commissioning ceremony at STX Shipyard, in Rauma, Finland, on Wednesday, DEA director-general Nosipho Ngcaba said that, while it marked the “end of an era” for the first SA Agulhas, South Africa welcomed the continuation of its research mandate in the form of the SA Agulhas II.
The vessel would leave Finland on Friday and, upon arrival in Cape Town on May 3, was expected to undertake a series of training and equipment-testing cruises.
Its maiden expedition voyage would be to Gough Island in September, followed by a trip to Antarctica in December.
The multipurpose ship’s capabilities – in addition to carrying passengers and hosting a scientific research platform – included a cargo and dry bulk carrier element to enable the transport of supplies to three remote stations; a fuel tanker to transport bulk fuel for the bases and vehicles, as well as aviation fuel for helicopters; and a helicopter landing section.
The vessel holds eight permanent and six containerised laboratories and was suitable for oceanography, meteorology, climate change, biodiversity, marine geoscience and marine engineering research.
“[This ship is] a wise and worthy investment of our government that will create opportunities for our young scientists, but more importantly carry out research that will improve our country’s ability to predict climate change impacts,” said DEA deputy director-general of oceans and coasts Dr Monde Mayekiso.
It was the first ship to be built to the International Maritime Organisation’s latest safety-of-life-at-sea safety regulations for passenger ships.