Research Vessel Phakisa opens new opportunities for marine research

  • 06 March 2017 | Ann Kunz | Category: Research

Recently completed in Port Elizabeth, the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity’s second coastal research vessel, R/V Phakisa, has started work.

The vessel is a custom-built, 14.5m Legacy Cat commissioned by the African Coelacanth Ecosystem Programme (ACEP) and built by Ocean Legacy Marine with funding secured from the National Research Foundation, through the Department of Science and Technology.

Nick Ridden, skipper of R/V Phakisa. (Image: uShaka Sea World)

Moored at the Durban Marina, R/V Phakisa will work out of Durban along the KwaZulu-Natal coast as a platform for research institutions in the province. Her crew of two technical staff is hosted by the Oceanographic Research Institute (ORI) at the South African Association for Marine Biological Research (SAAMBR), based at uShaka Marine World.

R/V Phakisa has been specially designed as a research platform and is capable of accommodating and deploying a variety of specialised equipment used for surveying the coastal waters of South Africa’s east coast. State-of-the-art jet propulsion engines with advanced navigational equipment allow for extremely accurate and fine-scale manoeuvrability without the risks posed to over-the-side gear by propellers.

The crew uses an A-frame and hydraulic winch to deploy and operate heavy sampling gear such as benthic grabs, demersal trawls and water samplers, over the stern. The vessel can stay out at sea overnight, has a cruising speed of 18 knots, can operate up to 40 nautical miles off shore and has a range of approximately 250 nautical miles.

The vessel is custom built to allow remotely-operated underwater camera observation work to be undertaken in difficult, strong current conditions, which hasn’t been possible for marine researchers up until now. This opens up a completely new window to South Africa’s eastern shelf edge. This environment is driven by one of the world’s largest western boundary currents, the Agulhas Current, which transports nutrients and plays a large role in determining climate conditions in the region.

R/V Phakisa has been named in recognition of Operation Phakisa, a presidential initiative to unlock South Africa’s Ocean Economy. The vessel will be available to the South African marine science community on a competitive basis through the ACEP Open Call. ACEP partners in KwaZulu-Natal include ORI, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, the University of KwaZulu-Natal, the University of Zululand and the KZN Sharks Board, among others.

Dr Sean Fennessy, assistant director ORI, Thor Eriksen assistant skipper and Nick Ridden, skipper of R/V Phakisa. (Image: uShaka Sea World)

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