VIDEO: First of three RCRV research vessels launched

Written by Nick Blenkey
Regional Class Research Vessel (RCRV) Taani in floating dry dock

Taani is the first of three Glosten-designed Regional Class Research Vessels [Photo courtesy of Glosten]

Oregon State University has released video showing last Thursday’s launch of the R/V Taani, the first of three new oceanographic research vessels being build under the Regional Class Research Vessel (RCRV) project, funded by the National Science Foundation and supported by more than $390 million in grants.

The three nearly identical ships will be delivered by Bollinger Shipyards, which took over the construction contract for the ships when it acquired the Shipyard Division of Gulf Island Fabrication in 2021.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) selected Oregon State University (OSU) to lead the design and acquisition of the three research vessels, which will be operated by OSU, University of Rhode Island/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and University of Southern Mississippi/LUMCON and used for multidisciplinary research and marine environmental education.

Regional Class Research Vessel (RCRV) Tani in dry dock prior to lauch
Taani in the floating dry dock prior to launch [Photo: Glosten]

The 200-foot ships are unique, with new technologies and other features to enhance operational capabilities, improve safety and expand ocean-based research. Each ship is designed to operate with 13 crew and up to 20 scientists for missions extending up to three weeks at sea.

Seattle based naval architect firm Glosten was brought on board to develop the contract design for the RCRVs and provide support throughout their construction. Its engineering team worked with project stakeholders through design trade-off studies, cost benefit analyses, frequent meetings, and formal presentations to deliver the final design. Glosten has assisted OSU in providing oversight during construction as the shipyard progresses the design, and steps in to provide production design support as needed.

Oregon State University was first awarded a cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation to complete the RCRV design in 2013 and grants to build the three ships followed. The project was initially expected to take about 10 years but was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and multiple Gulf Coast hurricanes, including the category 4 storm Ida in 2021 that caused extensive damage at the shipyard and across Houma; and other challenges.

The Taani will be operated by Oregon State University and based in Newport on the Oregon Coast.

The launch took place at Edison Chouest Offshore’s LaShip shipyard in Houma, La., where the ship was transferred to the water using a floating dry dock.

Once the ship’s hull was submerged five feet, teams of inspectors closely examined the interior for any leaks before completing the launch. The vessel, which is not yet under its own power, was then towed by a pair of tugboats to Bollinger’s Houma shipyard, where It will remain while construction and outfitting are completed.

The launch essentially concludes the major exterior construction on the vessel, says OSU. The shipbuilders will now complete wiring and finish installing equipment and other construction tasks; carry out weeks of operational testing; and conduct sea trials to ensure the vessel is ready for its mission.

“Seeing Taani in the water is a very special moment and signifies the promise of many scientific advances to come in the years ahead,” said Tuba Özkan-Haller, dean of OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “We are grateful that the National Science Foundation has entrusted us to lead this project.”

“It has taken tremendous dedication and an extraordinary team of designers, shipbuilders, scientists, inspectors, technicians and project and contract managers to bring Taani to life, but there is still much work to be done before the vessel is operational,” said Clare Reimers, Distinguished Professor of Ocean Ecology and Biogeochemistry at OSU, who is the RCRV project scientist and co-principal investigator.

The second vessel, the R/V Narragansett Dawn, will be operated by the East Coast Oceanographic Consortium led by the University of Rhode Island. The third vessel, the R/V Gilbert R. Mason, will be based in the Gulf of Mexico. It will be managed by the Gulf-Caribbean Oceanographic Consortium, led by the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium and the University of Southern Mississippi.

“These are very technically advanced vessels and getting the many systems that scientists use to all fit within the available internal space has been challenging,” said Demian Bailey, OSU’s principal investigator and project manager for the RCRV program. “Opportunities to build a ship like this don’t come along often, and we want to make sure the ocean science community is well equipped for the next couple of decades.”

Construction of Taani is expected to be completed in 2024. After that, the ship and its new OSU-based crew will spend several months learning to operate the vessel, training on safety protocols and conducting trials of the scientific tools, sensors and equipment in the Gulf of Mexico before bringing the vessel through the Panama Canal and to its home port in Newport. The first research expeditions aboard Taani are expected in 2025 under current timelines.

While the vessels are under construction, there is also a significant effort underway in Oregon to support the project. At an OSU warehouse in Corvallis, a “transition to operations” team is developing and testing scientific sensors and instrumentation; setting up the ships’ cyber infrastructure and ordering tools, equipment and supplies that will be needed to operate the vessels– everything from spare propellers to galley equipment and more.

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