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SA Agulhas / SA Agulhas II

The SA Agulhas is South Africa's polar research vessel. She has been in service for almost thirty years and is nearing the end of her term of service. The Agulhas is used to service the three SANAP research bases in the Southern Ocean and Antarctica as well as various research voyages. She spent most of her time out of harbor. The SA Agulhas returned 18 May 2012 from Marion Island on its final research and supply voyage before it was decommissioned as a polar and supply vessel. The SA Agulhas had over the past 34 years covered about 1.5 million KM and 159 voyages.

South Africa is one of the original 12 signatories of the Antarctic Treaty which was signed in December 1959. Since then it played a significant role in Antarctic matters and the administration of the continent. It is still the only African country that is a Treaty member. South Africa has thus been involved in research on the Antarctic continent (a pre-requisite for Treaty membership), oceanographic research in the Southern Ocean and the waters around Antarctica, research on the Prince Edward Islands and weather observations on the three remote stations, as well as, the Polar ships for more than 50 years.

For 33 of the 50 plus years of South Africas involvement in the Southern Ocean and Antarctica, the SA Agulhas, was the crucial platform that provided the back bone of logistical support for research. She carried the annual supplies (food, fuel, spares, etc.) for the overwintering teams, as well as maintenance and support staff and researchers to the 3 remote stations.

The SA Agulhas served the country very well for more than three decades. Apart from the annual supply/relief voyages to the 3 remote stations, she has undertaken numerous research cruises and also participated in a number of international rescue events. The most prominent of these was the winter (2002) rescue of the MV Magdalena Oldendoff beset in Antarctica ice. South Africa received accolades from a number of Heads of State for her (and the SA Agulhass) role in the event. It also resulted in the SA Agulhas becoming a household name in the international arena.

The SA Agulhas eventually reached the end of her industrious lifespan as an ice-beaker. The Classification Society (Lloyds of London in this case) was reluctant to clear polar ships older than 30 years for ice-covered water operations. A successor/replacement had to be found since without a ship, with at least the current ships capabilities, it would be impossible to continue with South Africas involvement, activities and commitment in the Southern Ocean and on the sub-Antarctic Islands and the Antarctic continent.

The arrival of the new SA Agulhas II in late March 2012, heralded in a new and exciting period for researchers. S.A. Agulhas II is a South African icebreaking polar supply and research ship owned by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA). She was built in 2012 by STX Finland in Rauma, Finland, to replace the aging S. A. Agulhas, which will be retired in the near future. Unlike her predecessor, S. A. Agulhas II was designed from the beginning to carry out both scientific research and supply South African research stations in the Antarctic.

The SA Agulhas II embarked on a 26 day shakedown cruise to the edge of the ice shelf in Antarctica on the 9th of July. She sailed back to the Mother City on the 6th of August. A group of marine scientists from the Department of Environmental Affairs, South African Weather Service, University of Cape Town, The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, University of Stellenbosch and Rhodes University took part in the trip. The purpose of the shakedown cruise was to test all ship systems under full operational conditions and also to train researchers. A wide variety of vertical and towed probes, nets and underwater photographic equipment were deployed and their associated onboard processing systems were fully tested.

An important objective was to enter the winter pack ice (a floating mass of compacted ice fragments) and to test the ship's propulsion systems under Antarctic conditions. All previous ice tests were carried out in the Baltic Sea, where the density of the ice is different compared to the Antarctic. This was very useful in obtaining a "first feel" of the ice prior to the year-end Sanae Relief Voyage in December. It also allowed the ship's personnel, some of which had only recently joined the ship, to undergo full operational training.

The SA Agulhas II departed on its maiden supply voyage to Gough Island 06 September 2012. The polar vessel stopped over at Tristan da Cunha islands to drop off a group of 38 British Tristan da Cunha residents before heading on to Gough Island.

The Southern Ocean on the doorstep of South Africa so to speak, acts for a large part as a carbon sink drawing excess atmospheric carbon into the ocean. It is therefore key in understanding the processes of climate change. This ship is particularly well equipped to do climate change research. She does not only provide an excellent scientific platform for South African researchers, but will draw international experts to participate in research projects of national interest.

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