Thoma-Sea lays keel for new NOAA oceanographic ship

Written by Nick Blenkey
Welder welds plate for oceanographic research ship

A welder from Thoma-Sea Marine Constructors, LLC, welds the initials of Oceanographer’s sponsor, Linda Kwok Schatz, onto a steel plate that will be incorporated into the oceanographic research ship in keeping with maritime tradition. [Photo: NOAA]

The Thoma-Sea Marine Constructors, LLC shipyard in Houma, La., yesterday hosted a keel laying ceremony for NOAA’s newest oceanographic research ship, Oceanographer.

During the ceremony, the initials of the ship’s sponsor, Linda Kwok Schatz, wife of U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii, were welded onto a steel plate that will be incorporated into the ship during construction. Although Oceanographer does not have a traditional keel due to modern shipbuilding methods, the ceremony was in keeping with centuries-old maritime tradition that formally recognizes the start of a ship’s construction.

“NOAA ships play a vital role in meeting the large and growing demand for oceanic data, critical for protecting lives and livelihoods,” said NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad, Ph.D. “The new capabilities of Oceanographer will contribute to NOAA’s sustained leadership in providing reliable, high-quality data to the nation, driving the New Blue Economy and doing so more efficiently than ever before.”

Oceanographer will support a wide variety of missions, ranging from general oceanographic research and exploration to marine life, climate and ocean ecosystem studies. These missions include shallow coastal, continental shelf and worldwide ocean survey and data collection.

“Today’s keel-laying ceremony marks a major step forward both in the construction of Oceanographer and the revitalization of NOAA’s ship fleet,” said Rear Adm. Nancy Hann, director of NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operations (OMAO) and the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps.

Profile drawing of oceanographic research ship
Oceanographic research vessel Oceanographer. [Image: NOAA]

Oceanographer is one of two oceanographic research ships being built for NOAA by Thoma-Sea. To support NOAA’s goal of reducing the agency’s carbon footprint, Oceanographer and its sister ship, Discoverer, will incorporate the latest technologies, including emissions controls and high-efficiency diesel engines that have potential to save 15,000 gallons per year for each vessel, resulting in an estimated reduction of approximately 5,700 tons of carbon dioxide.

“This efficiency is a success for the government, Thoma-Sea Marine Constructors and our planet, providing the lowest impact to the environment while studying the oceans we depend on,” said Thoma-Sea’s managing director Walter Thomassie. “It is with much enthusiasm that we begin this phase of the project.”

Oceanographer will be homeported in Honolulu, Hawaii. The ship is expected to join the NOAA fleet in 2025, with Discoverer to follow in 2026.

“I am confident this new vessel will serve Hawaii and our country well,” said Linda Kwok Schatz.

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