Australia’s new Marine National Facility vessel will start looking ship shape today as hundreds of tonnes of steel are lifted into place to form part of the keel of RV Investigator.

CSIRO Chief Executive Dr Megan Clark said significant progress has been made since construction of the 93.9 metre blue water research vessel started in January at the Sembawang Shipyard, a subsidiary of Sembcorp Marine in Singapore.

“Two sections of the keel, each weighing around 140 tonnes, will be lifted into place, ready for welding together, to form the foundation of the vessel,” said Dr Clark.

The contract to design, build and commission the vessel was awarded to Teekay Holdings Australia, which partnered with the Sembawang Shipyard in Singapore because of its track record and strong commitment to new technologies and innovation.

“The hull is a very clever design, as it reduces the amount of air drawn under the vessel while it’s moving,” said Megan Clark.

“This helps to minimise interference when mapping the seafloor, using multibeam echo sounders, profilers, fish finding sonars and other acoustic sensors.

“The hull on the ship will also house a gondola fitted with the latest marine scientific equipment and a retractable section of the keel includes a camera to improve observations.”

Investigator will be operated by CSIRO and will be available to all Australian marine scientists. It replaces the existing Marine National Facility ship, Southern Surveyor, which is 40 years old.

In 2009 the Australian Government committed AU$120 million to the purchase of a new research vessel for the Marine National Facility. The project is an initiative of the Australian Government being conducted as part of the Super Science Initiative and financed from the Education Investment Fund.