14 November 2011
South Africa’s ice-strengthened polar research and supply vessel, the SA Agulhas, is on a symbolic 10-day voyage to raise climate awareness ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 17) starting in Durban later this month.
The ship is sailing from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth and then on to Durban, before heading back to Cape Town.
With a mix of scientists, academics, students and journalists on board, the vessel set sail from Cape Town on Saturday to raise awareness around climate change in the country’s coastal cities.
The 17th Conferences of the Parties (COP 17) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change takes place in Durban from 28 November to 9 December.
In the build-up to the conference, the voyage will have on-board exhibitions, symposiums and lectures from climate change scientists showcasing the work the vessel has done in the area of climate research for the last three decades.
The voyage will highlight the various scientific activities undertaken by the Department of Environmental Affairs in Antarctica and the Southern Oceans, the opportunities and threats posed by the ocean to coastal communities, and the real and considerable impact of oceans on the climate.
“The Southern Ocean is regarded as key in understanding the processes of climate change,” the department’s oceans and coasts deputy director-general, Monde Mayekiso, said at the start of the voyage in Cape Town.
“South Africa has an advantage in that the Southern Ocean is on its doorstep, so to speak, and now we’ll have the ideal tool and platform to do cutting-edge research.”
SA National Antarctic Programme
The SA Agulhas has 138 people onboard, comprising 40 crew and 98 scientific and other staff. She is used to service the three South African National Antarctic Programme (Sanap) research bases in the Southern Ocean and Antarctica as well as various research voyages. She spends most of her time out of harbour.
The three Sanap research bases include the ones on Marion Island, Gough Island, and the SA National Antarctic Expedition (SANAE) IV base station at Vesleskarvet nunatak, which is a rocky outcrop peeping out of a snowy surface.
The SA Agulhas also provided the capacity for South Africa to commit to and honour international agreements, including deploying drifting weather buoys that significantly increased the country’s weather predicting capability, and servicing automatic weather stations on remote islands like Southern Thule and Zawadovski.
Modern, fuel efficient replacement
This voyage will also highlight the last voyage of the SA Agulhas to Antarctica in December 2010 before it is replaced by a new vessel, the SA Agulhas II, being built in Finland at a cost of about R1.5-billion.
The new vessel will have enhanced technologies and capabilities to further understand the ocean environment and to bring that understanding to an increasing number of South Africans.
“By the time COP 17 draws to a close, the SA Agulhas will be on her last voyage to the Antarctic,” Mayekiso said. “South Africa has been involved in Antarctica, the Southern Ocean and on the sub-Antarctic islands, Marion and Gough, for more than 50 years, doing research.
“For 33 of those 50-plus years, the SA Agulhas has been the means to get to the remote stations and providing the platform to do oceanographic research and meteorology observations from.
“She served us very well – transporting supplies and fuel and carrying the relief overwintering teams to the islands and Antarctica.”
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