It may not be quite as dramatic as the Red October, however, to conduct scientific research on climate change, sustainable fishing, and energy production, multidisciplinary research programs in the Netherlands and Belgium needed a modern research platform capable of operating in the North Sea and meeting extensive environmental and technical requirements. To meet this need, Damen Shipyards Gorinchem and VLIZ, the Flemish Institute for the Sea, designed and built the Research Vessel Simon Stevin (RV 3609) for their client DAB Vloot, the Flemish governmental fleet operator.
While hull and hotworks were built at Damen Shipyards Galati (Romania), the outfitting was done by Maaskant Shipyards Stellendam (The Netherlands). This Damen yard installed all high-tech research and fishing equipment.
Its name relates to the influential Flemish mathematician and engineer Simon Stevin (1548-1620) who designed and executed many civil works related to water technology and marine engineering.
The ship had to comply with extensive and rigorous requirements both as to its footprint and fishing gear. Therefore, the design and lay-out of the vessel was optimized to have very low underwater noise levels and be able to sail in ‘silent mode’. The silent mode complies to the ICES Standard 209 (International Council for Exploration of the Seas), a standard that limits Underwater Radiated Noise. The Damen RV 3609 is the smallest vessel in the world that complies with these strict requirements.
The scientists and researchers have both a ‘dry’ and a ‘wet’ laboratory at their disposal on the main deck. On the fo’c’sle deck there’s a survey room (containing the servers and most computers) for data analysis. When the net drum is dismantled, the aft deck offers room for additional containerized laboratories.
Its basic characteristics are a tiltable A-frame on the aft deck, a number of winches for hydrographical survey work, soil sampling and fishing, two laboratories, a 200 kW bowthruster, a Dynamic Positioning system, and a free deck space of 45 m² allowing space for two containers. Underneath the vessel (and integrated in its keel) a ‘blister’ is installed, i.e. a pod containing a multi-beam echosounder and other equipment for 3D-imaging of the sea bed.
A set of purpose-built fishing winches, uniquely installed below-deck, allow the RV 3609 to apply several fishing methods. For pelagic fishing, a Maaskant low-noise and dismantable electrical net drum has been designed and installed for the 8-metre wide beam trawler. The lay-out of the top deck enables (visual) research on and counting of birds and aquatic mammals.
The two fishing winches, the net drum and the double anchor mooring winch are designed and built by Maaskant Stellendam. In addition, the vessel contains an auxiliary winch to support the second A-frame on starboard side and a double-drum electrical, oceanographic CTD-winch (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth). These are used for lowering research equipment, e.g. a computer-guided CTD-carousel for taking water samples.
The Simon Stevin has (sleeping) accommodation, incl. a separate messroom, for 10 crew and 10 scientists when going on multi-day missions. For day-trips the vessels can take up to 30 persons on board.
The Damen RV 3609 is propelled by two 520 kW electric motors, which are flexibly mounted to reduce subsea noise levels. Three generator sets supply the electricity for the propulsion system, the winches and other electrical equipment. Up to 9.5 knots the Simon Stevin is able to sail in ‘silent mode’; its maximum speed is 12 knots. The bowthruster, part of the vessel’s DP-arrangement, ensures good manoeuvrability in ports and when performing diving operations.
All in all, the three Damen yards, in cooperation with their client, have done their utmost to deliver a relatively small hydrographical research vessel (36 x 9 m) which is nevertheless abundantly equipped with research, analysis and fishing equipment. According to VLIZ, the RV 3609 is both its first newbuild Research Vessel and a real showpiece.