Thoma-Sea wins $624.6 million NOAA research vessel order

Written by Nick Blenkey
Thoma-Sea newbuilds will join existing NOAA fleet of charting and mapping vessels.

Thoma-Sea newbuilds will join NOAA fleet of charting and mapping vessels that includes the Fairweather. [Credit: NOAA]

NOAA (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration) has awarded Houma, La., shipbuilder Thoma-Sea Marine Constructors LLC a $624.6 million contract to design and build two advanced research vessels. The contract includes an option for two more vessels. The first two ships have an expected delivery date of 2027 and 2028.

Thoma-Sea is currently constructing two oceanographic research ships for NOAA with deliveries slated for deliveries in 2025 and 2026.

The two just-ordered ships will focus primarily on ocean mapping and nautical charting as part of NOAA’s mission to deliver tools and information to help ships safely navigate U.S. ports and harbors, but will have additional capabilities to help assess and manage living marine resources and collect data for oceanographic monitoring, research and modeling activities.

“These state-of-the-art ships will ensure that we can continue to meet NOAA’s mission to support safe navigation, coastal resource management and the nation’s blue economy,” said NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad, Ph.D. “I’m also proud that these new vessels will harness modern engines and design that will move NOAA forward in reducing its own emissions with an eye towards achieving a net-zero fleet.”

The ships will be designed to coordinate, acquire and process large data sets like those gathered from mapping the seafloor and characterizing marine habitats. They will also have the ability to deploy crewed survey work boats, scientific equipment and uncrewed systems, which enhance the work the ship does.

“This is another milestone in NOAA’s effort to recapitalize our aging fleet of ships,” said NOAA Corps Rear Adm. Nancy Hann, director of NOAA Marine and Aviation Operations and the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps. “These ships are vital for mapping the United States Exclusive Economic Zone, enabling maritime commerce and responding to natural disasters, and will allow us to meet critical at-sea data collection requirements for the economic security, public safety and national security for many years to come.”

This contract was awarded Thoma-Sea following a request for proposals that was open June–October 2022. At the time it was released, NOAA said that, to meet its requirements, “the new ships must have the capability to carry, deploy and recover multiple crewed and uncrewed vessels to support nautical charting and seafloor survey missions. They must also be able to accommodate 48 people, consisting of commissioned officers, professional civilian crew members, scientists and other personnel. NOAA has set a goal of achieving net-zero emissions for its ship fleet by 2050. To support NOAA’s goal of reducing the agency’s carbon footprint, the new ships must incorporate the latest technologies, including high-efficiency, environmentally-friendly EPA Tier IV diesel engines and emissions controls.”

The research and survey ships operated, managed and maintained by NOAA Marine and Aviation Operations is the largest fleet of federal research ships. Its vessels range from large oceanographic research vessels capable of exploring the world’s deepest oceans, to smaller ships responsible for charting the shallow bays and inlets of the U.S. The fleet supports a wide range of marine activities, including fisheries surveys, nautical charting and ocean and climate studies. NOAA ships are operated by NOAA Corps officers and civilian professional mariners.

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