NOAA to get new ships for research fleet

HONOLULU — Two new ocean research ships are bound for Hawaii thanks to the efforts of Hawai‘i legislators on Capitol Hill, and the first is set to be homeported in Honolulu.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced its plans to acquire the two new ships Tuesday. The first vessel, named Oceanographer after one of NOAA’s original research vessels, is targeted for completion in 2023.

The second ship, Discoverer, will be assigned a home port at a later date.

NOAA currently has a fleet of 15 active research and survey ships, which are operated by NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operations and crewed by NOAA’s Commissioned Officer Corps and civilian professional mariners.

Each year, NOAA conducts more than 100 missions to collect data for nautical charts, fishery quotas, exploration of the 4.3 million square-mile Exclusive Economic Zone, storm surge modeling and climate research.

U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D— Hawai‘i), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, helped secure federal funding to update the NOAA fleet.

“These new ships will make sure NOAA can continue to do the critical research work we need to protect our oceans and Hawai‘i’s natural resources, including Papahanaumokuakea,” Schatz said.

Congressional appropriators in December approved $3.3 million in funding to cover operations after the unexpected decommissioning of NOAA ship Hi‘ialakai — the 35-year-old vessel that mostly worked in Papahanaumokuakea and other parts of the western Pacific.

Hi‘ialakai was retired early due to extensive erosion and in addition to being on the team that secured the funding, Schatz has called on NOAA leaders to complete a full assessment of its fleet to determine if any other NOAA ship has hidden damage to its hull.

Design of the vessels is currently underway, and NOAA expects to award contracts for the construction of the ships by the end of the year. Both will be built in the United States, and construction timelines and target launch dates for the vessels will be determined after the shipbuilding contracts have been awarded. The second ship will be assigned a homeport at a future date.

U.S. Congressman Ed Case (HI-01), member of the House Finance Appropriations Committee’s Commerce, Justice and Science Subcommittee, said he started work toward rebuilding the NOAA fleet when NOAA advised Hi‘ialakai would be decommissioned last January.

In a Tuesday statement, Case said the new NOAA ships “will ensure that our country can continue with the vital research necessary to research and preserve our marine world that, while still largely unknown, is so vital to the present and future of our planet.”

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