NOAA And VT Halter Marine Celebrate the "Laying Of The Keel" for NOAA's Two Newest Ships

VT Halter Marine Inc. and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are celebrating a construction milestone -- the keel laying -- today for two new vessels at VT Halter’s Moss Point, Miss., shipyard. A combined ceremony is being held for NOAA coastal mapping vessel Ferdinand R. Hassler and fisheries survey ship Bell M. Shimada. Both ships were named by student teams through regional NOAA ship-naming contests. The two teams are actively participating in today’s ceremony.

Ferdinand R. Hassler is a small waterplane area twin hull coastal mapping vessel, the first of its kind to be constructed for NOAA. Its design is particularly suited to NOAA’s mission to map the ocean floor, as it is less responsive to wave action than a mono-hull ship. Bell M. Shimada is the last of four vessels of the same design to be built for NOAA by VT Halter Marine. These sister ships are considered among the world’s most technologically advanced fisheries survey vessels.

Catherine H. Sununu, wife of U.S. Senator John Sununu of New Hampshire, is the sponsor of Ferdinand R. Hassler. Sponsors imbue the ship with their spirit during its years of service, according to maritime tradition. She will also attend the ceremony as the ship’s keel-laying authenticator, signing the keel’s plaque. Susan E. Lautenbacher, wife of retired Navy Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher Jr., Ph.D., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator, is sponsor of Bell M. Shimada, and will authenticate that ship’s keel. With assistance from a shipyard welder, Sununu and Lautenbacher will engrave the first initial of their signatures on the respective keel plates, which will then be incorporated into the ships during construction. A high-level NOAA official will present duplicate keel plates to the student teams at their schools in the fall.

“Although these ships will have very different missions, they are equally important to NOAA’s success in meeting our strategic goals,” said Vice Admiral Lautenbacher. “Their state-of-the-art technologies will help NOAA more efficiently chart our waters and better assess the health of fish stocks and ecosystems on the West Coast. Celebrating this first important construction milestone together represents a great leap forward in NOAA’s fleet modernization program.”

A team of four tenth-grade students and their teacher from Naugatuck High School in Naugatuck, Conn., won the “Name NOAA’s New Ship” regional contest with the name “Ferdinand R. Hassler.” A team of five students and their teacher from Marina High School in Marina, Calif., won the West Coast regional naming contest with the selection “Bell M. Shimada.” The contests were open to all middle and high schools in their respective regions of New England and the West Coast. Both teams wrote essays that supported their selection of a ship name. The NOAA contests are designed to encourage students to learn more about the science behind the marine and coastal resources in their regions.

The primary mission of Ferdinand R. Hassler will be to map the waterways along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, Caribbean Sea and Great Lakes in support of NOAA’s National Ocean Service. The ship will conduct basic hydrographic surveys of the seafloor using side scan and multibeam sonar technologies. The vessel’s ability to monitor and detect changes to the seafloor will enhance the nation’s commerce and security and improve our ability to characterize marine ecosystems. Ferdinand R. Hassler will be homeported in New Castle, N.H.

Bell M. Shimada will support NOAA Fisheries Service. Scientific observations and data collected onboard will be used to manage the nation’s living marine resources of the Pacific West Coast, where it will be home ported. This includes support for long-term surveys for the management of groundfish stocks of Pacific whiting and rockfish, early life history studies of salmon, and marine mammal monitoring in the eastern tropical Pacific. The ship will also support the Pacific Coast Ocean Observing System, which provides ocean information to help manage sustainable living marine resources of the California Current Large Marine Ecosystem.

“The men and women of VT Halter Marine are very proud to be building these ships for NOAA, particularly as they will serve our nation’s interests at home and abroad,” said Boyd E. King, VT Halter Marine’s chief executive officer. “We’ve already delivered two sister ships of Bell M. Shimada, and we’re particularly excited about Ferdinand R. Hassler as it’s our first ship of its design and class.”

As the first superintendent of Thomas Jefferson’s newly established Survey of the Coast, Ferdinand R. Hassler was a key player in NOAA’s earliest history. His scientific skill, strength of character, and indomitable nature guided the first federal science agency through many difficult times until his death in 1843. Hassler left a thriving organization imbued with principles of scientific accuracy, standards, and integrity as his gift to the American people. His legacy directly influenced 200 years of hydrographic surveys and the creation of NOAA.

Bell M Shimada was known for his distinctive mark on the study of Pacific tropical tuna stocks. Working with interdisciplinary teams of biologists, chemists and oceanographers, as a researcher and then team leader, Shimada developed and published such materials on the distribution, spawning and feeding patterns of tuna. He also coordinated international data collection and studies for the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission. Shimada’s son, Allen Shimada, currently a fisheries scientist with NOAA, is attending the ceremony today.

Once operational, the new vessels will be operated, managed, and maintained by NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operations, composed of civilians and commissioned officers of the NOAA Corps, one of the nation’s seven uniformed services.

NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and information service delivery for transportation, and by providing environmental stewardship of our nation's coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners, more than 60 countries and the European Commission to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes, predicts and protects.

NOAA Marine and Aviation Operations and NOAA Corps: http://www.omao.noaa.gov
VT Halter Marine: http://www.vthaltermarine.com

Jeanne Kouhestani
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(301) 787-7269 (cell)