Newcastle University research vessel nears completion

TYNESIDE’S shipbuilding past is being re-created with an international collaboration now nearing completion.

Mehmet Atlar, right, and James Wightman-Smith from Newcastle University with the new marine research vessel being constructed at Alnmaritec in Blyth
Mehmet Atlar, right, and James Wightman-Smith from Newcastle University with the new marine research vessel being constructed at Alnmaritec in Blyth

TYNESIDE’S shipbuilding past is being re-created with an international collaboration now nearing completion.

A research vessel for Newcastle University is being finished in the Alnmaritec shipyard at Blyth, Northumberland.

The as yet unnamed catamaran will serve as a floating laboratory for the university’s Dove Marine Laboratory at Cullercoats, North Tyneside, just like its 37-year-old predecessor Bernicia.

The unique vessel was the brainchild of Professor Mehmet Atlar, who said: “I feel very privileged and lucky in materialising this dream with my students and research team.

“The existing university research vessel Bernicia had come to the end of her viable service life but instead of just buying a new vessel, I thought we have all the resources to build it ourselves.”

When she is launched in September, the boat will be used by the university’s marine scientists for teaching and research.

Newcastle University lecturer and vessel manager Dr Ben Wigham said: “This research vessel allows us to collect data from the real environment to inform policy makers on making their decisions and it allows academic lecturers to train students, so they can put in practice what they have learned.”

The vessel will be 19m long and weigh 36 tonnes as fully loaded. With a cruising speed of 15 knots, she will operate in the North-East’s coastal waters carrying four crew members and 12 passengers.

“She is going to be much faster then the previous vessel and much larger,” said Mr Wigham. “We are going to be able to deploy robot cameras under water and undertake various fishing activities.”

The vessel will help scientists conduct research in several important areas, from studies into marine wildlife, bio-fuels, marine engineering performance monitoring and analysis and testing of marine coatings.

Its catamaran style was suggested by Prof Atlar to the Port of London Authority when they rang him and asked for advice to provide basis for their new support fleet for 2012 London Olympics. It has also been designed with ecological standards in mind.

“The new vessel will be fuel-efficient and running her is actually going to cost less, which means we can spend more days at sea, having more time for research with our students,” said Mr Wigham.

In addition to Newcastle Marine Science and Technology talents, local partners pitched in as well.

“We are very pleased that the company building the boat is based in Blyth,” Mr Wigham said. “In such a way, we are retaining the evocative image of shipbuilding within the North East.

“Culturally, people will automatically connect Newcastle with shipbuilding and coal. This region is closely linked with the sea, people find their employment and living from the sea.

“So it is important to use a vessel like this to inform the population, as well as ourselves, how the sea is functioning so we can make the best use out of it.”

An online survey was carried out to suggest a name for the boat. Among the most popular suggestions were Duchess of Northumberland, Northern Star and Tyne Pride, but the final name has yet to be decided.

“We want a name that has an evocative feeling of being close linked with the sea, marine science and technology and closely linked to North East,” Mr Wigham said.

The innovative ‘deep-Vee’ hull developed by the School of Marine Science and Technology was one of the features that won the support of the Newcastle University Executive Board.

The board agreed to pay two thirds of the costs with the final third coming from university alumni and other groups from all over the world.

Coatings from International Paints at Gateshead, stern gear and propellers from Turkey and design support from Greece all helped to make the project become reality.

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