Germans target research and special ship replacement

European yards have until August 31st to register their credentials to build a new, big, multi-functional research ship – just one of a number of major projects in the German special ship sector of late, writes Tom Todd.

The German Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) said the process to build Meteor IV, planned since 2012, is now going ahead. And in a chance of plans it has revealed that the newbuild will replace not one but two existing research ships.

It will also be modelled on and be “a modified version of” the superlative modern German research ship Sonne and be built to “the updated scientific and technical requirements of its users”. That guarantees that by the time it enters service due in 2024 its technology will not be out of date.

Yards have been invited to register for suitability assessment by the end of August after which provisional and then binding tenders will be invited. BMBF spokeswoman Daniela Schmidt told The Motorship “the binding offer phase is expected to begin in October and an award decision is planned for mid 2022”  followed by two years of building.

Meteor IV will replace both the 97.5m Meteor III and the 60.8m Poseidon. They will be 48 and 58 years old respectively when the newbuild is delivered but could be even older because Daniela Schmidt cautions: “the timetable could still change”.

It’s not yet been revealed who will operate the ship for Berlin and the BMBF is also not saying what Meteor IV is expected to cost now. In 2012 Berlin estimated it would cost €160 million while the cost of a separate new Poseidon was put at €110 million.

The Meyer-built, diesel-electric Sonne – 118.42m loa and 20.6m wide – cost €124.4 million and was described as the “most modern research ship in the world of science” when it was launched by German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2014.

Its “energy efficient” engine configuration provides max. 15 knots and comprises four Wärtsilä 9L20CR main engines each of 1,620kw, two 2350kW drive motors from VEM Sachsenwerk Dresden and two fixed 3.25m diameter propellers. Four generators from Anhaltische Elektromotorenwerke Dessau produce 1,555kW and the ship also has a single Caterpillar C32ACERT emergency diesel of 874kW. Manoeuvering assistance comes from retractable bow and stern Schottel 860kW rudder propellers and a Schottel 2990kW  Pumpjet is also installed. All systems are redundant.

Diesel-electric propulsion is also stipulated for Meteor IV but it is not known how closely its engine configuration will follow that of Sonne and clearly there will be modifications. But the BMBF would not be drawn on details.. Among the stipulations in the tender invitation small print however are diesel generators for on-board power, azimuth drives and gearless Voith Schneider cycloidal  propellers as well as a bow thruster and a larger extendable rudder propeller instead of a pump jet. Diesel particle filters in the exhaust pipes of the diesel generators are also stipulated.

The Meteor IV acquisition process begins as the Berlin Transport Ministry piles on parallel pressure to also acquire specialist LNG specialist tonnage.

It has just converted an option with Abeking and Rasmussen for a third 95m LNG- fuelled multi-purpose emergency response and pollution control ship.Together the three ships are now worth some €600 million and are for delivery 2023, 2024 and 2025. They will replace smaller old ships currently serving in the North Sea and Baltic and are being fitted with LNG-electric propulsion developed by RRPS and based on gas-shielded Bergen B36:456AG engines.

As this report went to press Germany’s first LNG research ship Atair was on its final trials prior to entering service this year.

Smaller than the A&R newbuilds, the 75m, €114 million survey, wreck location and research newbuild from Fassmer is billed as the world’s first governmental research vessel with LNG propulsion – in this case Wärtsilä 20DF and 6L20 engines.

Calls grow louder meanwhile for the BMBF to issue an early new invitation to tender for the long-planned replacement research icebreaker Polarstern II.

In February the BMBF cancelled a five year old still-outstanding invitation to tender. No contract had been awarded and German officials said the original invitation no longer covered current technological demands for a long-term, efficient and economic newbuild.

The current much-praised, double-hulled Polarstern is 117.9m x 25m and has four KHD RBV 8M540, 3529kW engines developing 16 knots. It has served since 1982 and when the replacement tender invitation was issued in 2015, cost was put at €450 million making it the most expensive of all recent German research ship replacement projects.

The Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI), which operates the existing Polarstern and will also operate the replacement, said it could only fulfil its mandate long-term “with a modern icebreaker” which was “as future-proof, powerful and sustainable as possible”.

The AWI added “The demands on a modern research icebreaker have changed significantly” in the years since planning started for Polarstern II. Mentioned were the increasing use of more powerful underwater robots and “technical solutions that were hardly conceivable ten years ago”.

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