RRS Sir David Attenborough departs on maiden voyage to Antarctica


RRS Sir David Attenborough departs UK on maiden voyage to Antarctica (BAS photos)

Posted on November 16, 2021 at 4:24 PM by

The maritime executive

A year after its delivery and several delays in its construction, the new British polar research vessel, the RRS Sir David Attenborough, begins his first research trip to Antarctica. Costing over £ 200million ($ 268million), the program to build the new research vessel represents the UK government’s largest investment in polar science since the 1980s.

The ship left Harwich today, November 16, with 66 crew and staff on board and is heading for Portsmouth where, during a brief stopover, she will refuel. Departing from the UK is scheduled for November 18 to begin a three-and-a-half-week journey to Stanley, the capital of the Falkland Islands. From there the RRS Sir David Attenborough will continue his journey to Antarctica and he is not expected to return to the UK until June 2022, at the end of the Antarctic season.

“We are delighted to be leaving the RRS Sir David Attenborough during his first mission to Antarctica. This historic moment marks the next chapter in on-board research for the British Antarctic Survey, ”said Professor Dame Jane Francis, director of the British Antarctic Survey which operates the vessel for the Natural Environment Research Council, which commissioned the vessel. “I was there when the first piece of steel was laid, so watching the ship sail away for the first time to Antarctica is an incredibly poignant and moving moment for me, and for everyone who was involved in it. history of the ship so far. “

During its first mission, the state-of-the-art research vessel will transfer station crews, food, cargo and fuel to the five British Antarctic Survey research stations. Robotic instruments that drift with the currents of the Southern Ocean (Argo floats) will be deployed as part of an international oceanography program.

The ship will also carry essential scientific equipment to support the international Thwaites Glacier project, a collaboration between British and American scientists to investigate one of Antarctica’s most unstable glaciers.

“It is a moment of pride for the crew of RRS Sir David Attenborough. This is the moment we have all been waiting for and to finally sail the ship to Antarctica is an incredible feeling, ”said Will Whatley, Captain of the RRS Sir David Attenborough as they prepared to leave Harwich.

The new Australian research vessel RSV Nuyina and RRS Sir David Attenborough sailing together off Falmouth in July 2021 – Photo: Flying Focus Courtesy of BAS

The new vessel was built by Cammell Laird. She was launched in 2018 and experienced delays in fitting out before being delivered in November 2020. In the spring, the ship suffered an accident when one of its lifeboats was launched. injured two crew members and then returned to the shipyard for some touch-ups. and additional work. After the technical corrections and improvements identified during the first series of tests, as well as the commissioning of new scientific equipment, the Attenborough returned to sea in July 2021 for her next round of testing and crew training. BAS alternated two crew members aboard the ship to give everyone maximum time to familiarize themselves with their operations before the official maiden voyage. At the end of October, he made a special three-day visit to Greenwich, England for a three-day pre-COP26 event in partnership with the National Maritime Museum and his last official event before the departure of the maiden voyage.

The RRS Sir David Attenborough replaces two older research vessels that BAS has now retired. After 30 years of service, the RRS James Clark Ross was sold in August 2021 to the Ukrainian National Antarctic Science Center. The RRS Ernest Shackleton was returned to its owners in 2019, after 20 years of polar missions.

The new ship was designed to support science in extreme environments. A wide range of specialized scientific facilities, instruments and laboratories will enable scientists to conduct multidisciplinary science to study the ocean, seabed, ice and atmosphere. Marine robotics and remote-controlled vehicles – including the famous Boaty McBoatface, the name chosen by the British public for the ship – will capture data from the deep sea and from places previously inaccessible under the ice. It is also the first British polar research vessel to have a lunar basin – a vertical shaft running through the ship, open to both the air and the sea.

After returning to the UK in June 2022, plans are for her to spend the northern summer supporting Arctic research cruises before returning to Antarctica in late 2022.

Technical characteristics

  • Length: 129 meters; beam: 24m;
  • Gross tonnage: 15,000
  • Scientific cargo volume of approximately 900m³
  • Endurance – up to 60 days
  • Range 19,000 nautical miles at a cruising speed of 13 knots (24 km / h); more than enough for a return trip from England to Rothera research station, or to circle the entire Antarctic continent twice!
  • Icebreaking capability – up to 1m thick at 3 knots (5.6 km / h)
  • Bow and stern thrusters for excellent dynamic positioning in difficult conditions
  • Launch and recovery of aerial and oceanic robotic systems
  • Crew approx. 30
  • Accommodation for up to 60 scientists and support staff

Photos courtesy of BAS


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