U.K.'s Polar Research Ship Formally Named

Credit: Cammell Laird

Published Sep 26, 2019 5:53 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.K.’s new polar research ship was formally named the RRS Sir David Attenborough on September 26 by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. 

A three-day public celebration, hosted at the shipyard by British Antarctic Survey and Cammell Laird, aims to inspire and inform people about polar science, engineering and technology – and why it matters to everyday life. The event is focused on our future – young people will play a role in the celebrations. Primary school students from the STEM Polar Explorer Programme will meet the Duke and Duchess as they take a private tour of the ship. Local primary schools that have been studying the Antarctic and climate change will take part in a “penguin parade.”

Commissioned by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) - part of UK Research and Innovation, built by Cammell Laird and operated by British Antarctic Survey, this new research platform will transform how ship-borne science is conducted in the Polar Regions. It is part of a major Government polar infrastructure investment program (a total of £300M) designed to keep Britain at the forefront of world-leading research in Antarctica and the Arctic.

Science Minister Chris Skidmore says: “This is an incredibly exciting moment in our scientific history. The RRS Sir David Attenborough will allow us to make a major leap forward in our understanding of the environment. 

“As the first G7 nation to legislate for net zero carbon emissions, it is vital that we invest in scientific efforts that will help us deliver on this. From our world leading capability in earth observation satellites to our ground-breaking research into plastic-eating enzymes, the U.K. continues to lead by example as a truly green economy. 

“This new vessel is an incredible feat of engineering. But it also recognizes one of our most respected and admired figures - Sir David Attenborough. Nobody has done more than David to spread the message that we should understand and protect our planet, and I'm delighted that he is being honored in this naming ceremony.”

Professor Duncan Wingham, Executive Chair NERC, says: “This is an exciting day for all of us as we celebrate the naming of the RRS Sir David Attenborough. Today's ceremony marks the start of an important era that will help ensure world-class polar and deep ocean science in the decades to come.  While the Polar Regions might seem remote to the U.K., it is vital to understand that the poles are where we first see the impact of global environmental changes.”

Sir David Attenborough says: “This is the third milestone event that I have attended during the construction of this superb ship, and I have enjoyed watching progress from keel-laying till now. It is a remarkable engineering achievement. We all need this ship. Our world is changing and it’s clear that people around the world – especially the young – are becoming more and more concerned about a climate catastrophe. But human beings are resilient and skilful. If we pay attention to the scientific knowledge that those who will sail in this ship will gather, then we will stand a much better chance of finding a way to deal with what lies ahead.”

In the coming weeks specialist engineers will complete the interior fit-out. A program of technical and equipment testing will take place around the River Mersey and in deeper waters around the U.K. Ice trials in the northern hemisphere are planned from March 2020, followed by a science rehearsal cruise from August 2020.  The ship is scheduled to enter full service from October 2020.

Professor Dame Jane Francis, Director of British Antarctic Survey, says: “This magnificent ship will take U.K. scientists deep into the heart of the ice-covered polar seas. With state-of-the-art technology they will discover how drastically the polar oceans and the ice have been changed by our actions.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere warns that the oceans are warming and becoming more acidic with CO2, glaciers are melting and sea level is rising across the planet, and the polar bears and penguins are losing their homes. This ship will take us to the ends of the Earth to help us understand our future world.”

Sir Mark Walport, Chief Executive of UK Research and Innovation, says: “The RRS Sir David Attenborough is one of the most advanced polar research vessels in the world and will transform how ship-borne science is conducted in the Polar Regions. It will provide scientists with state-of-the-art facilities to undertake crucial research into the impact of global change on our oceans, marine biodiversity and climate, and ensure that the U.K. remains at the forefront of polar science.”

Cammell Laird CEO John Syvret CBE, says: “This is a historic day for Cammell Laird, and todays naming of the RRS Sir David Attenborough, arguably one of the most complex vessels afloat, underpins our re-emergence to the premier league of the global shipbuilding community.  It has taken 20 years to regenerate this infrastructure, capability and capacity, and I am extremely proud of all who have worked tirelessly to achieve today’s milestone.  This vessel represents our greatest challenge to date, and I thank NERC and British Antarctic Survey for their trust and ongoing support to deliver this iconic vessel.  This is the “Pride of Merseyside” and my special thanks go out to our workforce, TU, management and staff, together with our supply chain and all their families for their dedication and commitment to the project and the company.”

The British Pobjoy Mint has created a commemorative £2 coin featuring the ship and a 50p coin featuring the autonomous submersible Boaty McBoatface. 

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