Research Vessels operating off SA

The Vema: an example of a historic vessel
Photo Credit: Lamont Archives R/V Vema approaches the Piermont Pier, ca. 1960.

Built in 1923 for E. F. Hutton and christened Hussar, a 202-foot, three- masted schooner with teak decks, Louis XV bedroom, marble-rimmed fireplace, Oriental rugs, stained-glass windows and gold-fauceted bathrooms. The iron-hull racing yacht was sold 11 years later to Georg Ungar Vetlesen, who renamed her Vema, for his wife, Maude.

During World War II ownership of this vessel passed to the US government, amenities were stripped down and she served as a coastal patrol ship for many years. Eventually she was leased and then bought by Lamont (1953) for $100,000. Oceanographic research became her destiny and she often sailed 320 days of a year, exploring every area of ocean navigable. She was the first vessel to sail a million nautical miles making scientific observations!

RV Meiring Naudé (1968-1990)

South African CSIR’s vessel, 360 ton, range 4000 km, top speed 10 knots, variable pitch propeller, anti-roll tank, bow thruster; 8 scientists in 4 cabins, fully air conditioned, extensive work space (wet lab, electronics lab, chem lab), 3000 m 8mm conductor cable, CTD, XBT, current measurement on station, computerised data collection, echo sounder, SONAR, accurate navigation (hydrodist, DECCA, terrafix, radar transponding).

The vessel was built by Barens (Durban). Operated mostly off east coast, into Mozambique Channel, to Mauritius, Saldanha Bay.

Meiring Naudé was sold in 1990.

FRS Africana (1982 -)

Information supplied: Dr S du Plessis, DEA (Coastal & Oceans - ex-MCM)

Owned by Marine and Coastal Management (Department of Environmental Affairs). Length 77.85m, 2452 tonne, max speed 14.5 knots, cruise speed 12 knots; range 20000 nautical miles; endurance 45 days; complement 52 (19 scientists); Built by Dorbyl Marine, Durban. Eight laboratories and three containerised labs. Research and monitoring to guide management of South Africa’s offshore fisheries. Refitted in 2001.

FRS Algoa (1991-)

Owned: Marine and Coastal Management of the South African Dept of Environmental Affairs.
Operated by Smit Marine.
Prevously: Ludovic Jego (trawler); 52m, breadth 10.8m, 759 GRT.
Speed 13 knots; 12 scientists.
Range: 6000 nm; endurance 15 days.
6 labs and computer room.
3500 m steel cable; 2000m conducting cable.

RS Ellen Khuzwayo (2007-)

Information supplied: Dr S du Plessis, DEA (Coastal & Oceans - ex-MCM)

Marine and Coastal Management, Department of Environmental Affairs. ; replaced Sardinops (operated from 1959 to 2008); 43.2m; range 2500 nm; endurance 20 days; cruise speed 13 knots; 21 scientists. Built: Farocean Marine (Pty), Cape Town.

Six winches (incl. CTD, towing, vertical, long line); A-frame; Seabird CTD, ADCP, echo sounders; extensive navigation and comms.

Main research: fish, rock lobster; marine mammals


Benguela was a Namibian vessel for fisheries research

SAS Natal

The SAS Natal was a South African naval vessel. She was used in the 1960s off the East Coast, and participated in the International Indian Ocean Expedition. She is seen here helping with oil spill combating during South Africa’s first oil spill incident, the sinking of the World Glory in 1968.

SA Agulhas

The SA Agulhas is used as a relief vessel for the Antarctic base SANAE, and also for similar voyages to Marion (South African island southeast of Cape Town) and Gough, a British property but South Africa leases land for a weather station. The air conditioned vessel is a type LRS Ice class 1 (steel hulled, ice strengthened). Length: 111.95m, breadth 18.05m, 6122 GRT.

Range: 15000 nm, cruising speed 12.5 kts, maximum speed 14 knots, endurance 90 days.

Crew 40; scientists 98. 7000 m conducting cable

Polarstern (1982-)

German Ice breaker; 17300 tonnes; 118m; 12 knots; scientific staff 55

The Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) conducts research in the Arctic, Antarctic and in oceans of mid and high latitudes. The AWI coordinates polar research in Germany, and provides important infrastructure, such as the research icebreaker Polarstern and stations in the Arctic and Antarctic, for international science organisations. The AWI is one of 15 research centres of the 'Helmholtz-Gemeinschaft' (Helmholtz Association), the largest scientific organisation in Germany.

Margarete Pauls | Source: Informationsdienst Wissenschaft . Further information. :

Fridjof Nansen

Owner: NORAD; Operator: Norwegian Institute for Marine Research; 1444 tonnes, 57 m.

Marion Dufresne

Marion Dufresne is France’s largest oceanographic research vessel (120 m long) and was specifically designed for work in the extreme sea and weather conditions of the Southern Ocean. It carries a wide range of advanced oceanographic, geophysical and geological equipment. Among its arsenal of research tools are two that place this vessel at the forefront of global marine research - (i) its giant piston corer ‘Calypso’ capable of recovering deep sea sediment cores 60 m long, and (ii) its Thomson-Marconi TSM 5265 multi-beam sonar swath-mapper which produces high-resolution bathymetric and backscatter images of the seafloor at 13 knots across a swath 20 km wide in deep water.

120m; 15.7 knots (max 17); 110 passengers;

Knorr (1969-)

US Navy; 85m; 11 knots cruising; range 12000 nautical miles; endurance 60 days; 2518 tonnes; crew 22; scientists 32;

Atlantis (1997-)

US Navy; 274 ft; 11 knots cruising; range 17280 nautical miles; 22 crew; 24 scientists; endurance 60 days; heavy winches and cranes; ROV (Alvin)

The submersible Alvin is framed by its launch/recovery system in a stern view of R/V Atlantis during a cruise off San Diego near San Clemente Island to study seafloor formation. (Photo by Christopher Knight, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)


The Meteor (III) replaced the Meteor (II) in 1986. The Meteor (II) replaced Meteor (I) in 1964.

Meteor III: Owned by German Ministry of Research and Technology; Operator: German Research Foundation; Operations control: University of Hamburg, Institute for Ocean Research;

97.5m; 4780 tonnes; cruise speed 12 knots; Crew 32; Scientists 30; endurance 60 days