Australia set to expand blue-water research capacity

‘Investigator’ taking shape at Sembawang Shipyard ‘Investigator’ taking shape at Sembawang Shipyard

A new research ship, being built in Singapore for the Australian Marine National Facility, comes under the examination of David Tinsley.

Australia is set to considerably strengthen its marine science research capability through the anticipated delivery in September this year of a 94m dynamic-positioning vessel equipped for oceanographic, geological, fishery, ecosystem and climate studies.

Representing an investment of A$120million ($122million), Investigator is taking shape in Singapore at Sembawang Shipyard under the auspices of Teekay Shipping (Australia). She will replace a smaller vessel now nearing the end of her operational life, the 66m Southern Surveyor, owned and managed by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), and the only blue-water research ship among the assets constituting Australia’s Marine National Facility (MNF).

Teekay was entrusted with the engineering, procurement, construction and commissioning (EPCC) contract for the Investigator in January 2011, following a rigorous procurement process undertaken by CSIRO. Through the MNF, she will be operated by CSIRO on behalf of the Commonwealth of Australia, for use by the marine research community. The basic design was prepared by RALion, a North American alliance of Robert Allan and Alion Science & Technology, but the actual working design for the complex new ship has been achieved by Sembawang and Teekay.

As the new flagship of the MNF, the diesel-electric Investigator will signal a step change in Australian deep ocean research possibilities. Homeported at Hobart, Tasmania, she will be defined by state-of-the-art technology and will have accommodation for 40 scientists. Endurance will be 55-60 days cruising at 12 knots over a range of 10,000 nautical miles, for operations across the Indian, Pacific and Southern Oceans, thereby encompassing waters extending from the tropics to the Antarctic ice edge. By comparison, the 1972-built Southern Surveyor has a continuous voyage capability of 6,000 nautical miles, is not designed to venture as far south as Investigator, and has far fewer berths, totalling 15, for scientific personnel.

Australia has responsibility for a total ocean area larger than its landmass, and the littoral length of the mainland and islands totals nearly 60,000km. Australia’s territory encompasses the world’s greatest diversity of marine species and habitats within a single nation. The new ship will enhance the country’s capacity to investigate, assess and develop geological resources, detect and predict changes in the ocean environment and the implications for weather and climate, and describe and manage marine ecosystems, biodiversity and fisheries. As well as expanding domestic research wherewithal, the newbuild will also deliver increased opportunities for participating in international research programmes vital to understanding marine and atmospheric processes on a global scale.

The ice class Investigator has been engineered to sustain a broad range of sophisticated scientific activities by multi-disciplinary teams. Classification of the new ship was awarded to Lloyd’s Register, and has involved the society’s offices in Vancouver, Singapore and Australia, its Passenger Ship Support Centre in London and engineering dynamics expert LR ODS in Denmark.

The backbone of the ship’s specialised outfit will be made up of permanently fitted sampling, data acquisition, management and presentation and communication systems, and the equipment array will include special winches and lifting gear, acoustic mapping and environmental monitoring devices.

To support specific research assignments and campaigns, research teams will be able to add purpose-built systems such as radiation and trace metal laboratories, deepwater dredging, coring and drilling equipment, fishing nets, towed camera systems and remotely operated vehicles (ROVs). Researchers will also be able to integrate vessel-acquired data with data from satellite sensors, autonomous vehicles and shore-based models in real time.

Since radiated noise interferes with the operation of hull-mounted instruments of research and survey, and can alter the behaviour of fish and aquatic mammals, the hull and machinery installation have been designed to ensure that the vessel is as quiet as possible.

Fulfilling the requirements of DNV’s SilentR class notation for research vessel-related noise, developed in line with ICES guidelines, was a key stipulation for the design, leading to the adoption of a range of measures and technologies to reduce or minimise noise and vibration.

Investigator is powered by three main gensets, comprising MaK 9M25C engines of 3,000kW apiece driving Marelli alternators. Two reversible Indar electric propulsion motors of 2,600kW turn two Wärtsilä fixed pitch propellers at a relatively slow speed of 155rpm.

The propulsion motors meet the owner’s criteria as regards quiet running to the SilentR standard, while the five-bladed, highly-skewed propellers of 3.9m diameter have been designed to ensure low underwater-radiated noise. Caterpillar Marine Power Systems’ willingness to work with noise and vibration specialist NCE in designing a complex double resilient mount system and a very low impedance foundation for the engines had a signal bearing on the selection of MaK machinery as the prime movers.

Dynamic positioning capability to DP1 standard is reflected in the DP (AM) notation, allowing the vessel to hold station within defined limits. A retractable azimuthing thruster supplied by Texas-based Thrustmaster and powered by a 1,200kW electric motor is installed forward.

Noise created by the ship will be monitored by four multi-frequency hydrophones in the hull. As the hull moves through the water, it produces another type of interference, in the form of micro-bubbles, which either absorb or reflect signals from hydroacoustic instruments. To obviate interference by the bubble layer, the vessel’s hydroacoustic suite is located in an under-hull gondola and two drop keels.

The gondola, akin to a winged keel, is mounted 1.5m below the hull and measures about 13m in length and 9m in width. Vital equipment borne by the gondola includes two swath mappers, used to topographically map the sea floor. One of these will operate down to some 500m to generate very high resolution topographic maps on the continental shelf and upper slope. The other swath mapper offers a full ocean depth mapping capability, to depths of around 7km and at distances up to 15km on each side of the ship, potentially providing a 30km swathe of the sea bottom. The gondola also contains a sub-bottom profiler, to indicate the sedimentary constitution of the ocean floor.

Two Selmar drop keels also carry an array of scientific instruments. The keels are about 1.3m wide and 3.6m long, and are housed in a ‘tube’ in the ship. In the lowered position, the keels protrude 4m below the hull, ensuring that the transducers and emitted signals are clear of the bubble layer and turbulent zone as the vessel goes through the water. Seawater inlets have been designed into the keel undersides so as to allow scientists to collect uncontaminated seawater samples.

Among the instrumentation mounted on or in the drop keels is that which measures the speed, direction and depth of currents, detects and locates fish abundance, size and species, and measures the width and height of the scientific trawl net drawn behind the ship.

Norwegian companies Rapp Hydema and Triplex teamed up in the face of fierce competition to land the comprehensive deck machinery contract. Rapp staff undertook analysis of dynamic loads in order to identify related drag forces and available payloads, against the backcloth of mission requirements for working at extreme water depths, with the need for wire and cable holding capacity from 6,000m to 8,800m. Deck machinery systems have been designed for ambient operating temperatures in the range of +30° C to -45° C, and to ensure working continuity in conditions up to sea state 6 in accordance with LR’s lifting appliance rules. Characteristics of the equipment package as a whole are redundancy in powering and standardisation of parts.

The scientific research winch package includes six different winches with lifting capacities from 3t up to nearly 38t for a large piston corer deployment in deep ocean waters, while two Rapp trawl winches have been chosen for fisheries tasks.

The scale of the deck machinery outfit is implicit in the arrangement of three winch rooms and an installed, overall power footprint of about 1,800kW. Given the challenges of working on the Antarctic fringe, winches are placed below decks in order to reduce corrosion and ice-ups. The electric winch systems feature variable frequency drives (VFDs) of the Active Front End (AFE) type. The contract has provided a new outlet for Rapp’s Active Heave Compensation (AHC) and patented liquid-cooled motor technologies.

The Triplex supply includes a 30t telescopic corer boom, a multi-corer pipe handler, davits, a 20t aft A-frame and 6t overhead crane. Two towing booms are sited on the back deck next to the A-frame. The trawl deck portion of the main deck will be served by a 4m-wide trawl ramp in the stern. A two-piece cassette will provide an infill to the ramp when not in use so as to ensure a flush working deck area.

The wide range of laboratory facilities includes two rooms dedicated to atmospheric research, comprising an aerosol laboratory at the bow and an air chemistry lab at the foredeck. Air will be drawn into these research spaces by way of an aerosol sampling tube inside the foremast, through an inlet some 24m above the sea.

Located at the highest point of the vessel, on a tower mounted on the monkey deck, is a dual polarisation weather research radar scanner, designed to collect cloud and weather data up to 20km skywards and in a 150km radius from the ship. Supplied by the Australian company Environmental Systems & Services (ES&S), the state-of-the-art device is expected to contribute to improvements in numerical weather forecasting and climate prediction models.

Following handover, the vessel’s early career will involve proving and commissioning voyages, with the main, immediate goal of fully testing the ship and her technology. Any science carried out during this period will be opportunistic and full operations are accordingly not expected to commence until next year. The MNF Steering Committee has concluded its selection process for allocating sea time aboard Investigator, covering both the commissioning year September 2013 to August 2014, and research voyages between September 2014 and June 2015.

The provisional schedule encompasses a range of projects, headed by scientists from Australian universities and other institutions, with voyage durations of 11-61 days out of various ports around the Australian coast. For example, an assignment planned for June next year will entail a 24-day research voyage to the Indian Ocean, starting and ending in Broome, Western Australia. The Australian-led expedition will involve some 30 researchers, including scientists from the USA, UK, Germany and Canada, with the task of examining whether iron-rich dust stimulates nitrogen fixation in the eastern Indian Ocean.

Principal Particulars--INVESTIGATOR

Length overall 93.9m
Beam 18.5m
Draught 5.7m
Displacement, fully loaded 4,575t
Propulsion system Diesel-electric
Main genset engines 3 x 3,000kW
Propulsion motors 2 x 2,600kW
Retractable bow thruster 1 x 1,200kW
Crew 18
Scientist complement 40
Endurance 60 days
Class LR +100A1, +LMC, UMS, Ice 1C, IWS, EP, Research Vessel, DP(AM), DNV SilentR

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