New sea research vessel to replace the beloved Belgica


The Institute of Natural Sciences has ordered up a new sea-going research vessel, which will replace the aged Belgica

New ship, new name

The federal government has announced the purchase of a new ocean-going research vessel to replace the Belgica. The Belgica is 30 years old and has been little used for more than two years now, due to technical problems.

According to Lieven Naudts of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, which manages the country’s research ships, the new vessel will be between 50 and 70 metres long and “three to four times larger in volume” than the Belgica.

This will mean double the lab space, which will be equipped with the most up-to-date technology. The ship will also have a silent motor, which aids the research into sea life. Another crucial task of Belgium’s research vessel is to monitor water quality in the North Sea.

The contract for the construction of the ship has gone to the Spanish shipbuilder Freire Shipyard, according to a design by Rolls Royce Marine AS of Norway. It will cost nearly €54 million and be delivered in late 2020.

Deserved retirement

The Belgica, based in the port of Zeebrugge, has served Belgium well. While the vessel was managed by the Institute of Natural Sciences, it was loaned out to local researchers for marine science projects. In its 30 years, it has sailed to Moroccan, Portuguese, Spanish, French, British and Irish waters.

It is responsible for a wealth of international data regarding fishing techniques, the influence of sand extraction on the sea bed and the effect of wind farms on sea life. It’s international co-operations have led to the discovery of cold water coral mounds south-west of Ireland, for instance, and to mud volcanos off the coast of Morocco.

The vessel will not necessarily carry the name Belgica II: A competition among secondary school students will determine the name of the new vessel. They have until the end of January to create a video of their idea for a name, and then all ideas will be put up to a public vote.

This was also the UK’s idea two years ago, when it opened up the naming of its new research vessel to the public. International headlines were guaranteed when the public chose the name Boaty McBoatface. The UK government ultimately rejected the name in favour of the RRS Sir David Attenborough.

What should happen if Belgie McBelgface is chosen here is anyone’s guess.

Photo: An architecture rendering of Belgium's new research vessel