Adjustments delay new Arctic vessel

FAIRBANKS — A new research ship designed for Arctic waters will take longer than expected to reach Alaska.

The National Science Foundation’s 261-foot Sikuliaq was to reach Seward in January. Its departure from a shipyard in Marinette, Wis., is two to three months behind schedule as builders and operators make adjustments in ship systems, KUAC-radio reported.

The vessel is named for the Inupiat word for young sea ice. The Sikuliaq will be operated by the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

“We’re a little behind schedule, but, you know, these things are very hard to predict,” said the project’s principal investigator, Terry Whitledge. “It’s a pretty complex set of systems that have to go together to make everything work.”

The vessel had been designed in 2009 when economic stimulus money became available for construction. The vessel has a reinforced double hull that can be pushed through ice 2.5 feet thick by rotating thrusters and scalloped propeller blades.

The ship is equipped with multiple cranes. A double articulated A-frame crane off the stern will deploy loads that weigh tens of tons.

The university hopes to operate the vessel 30 weeks per year with up to 24 scientists on board. The ship will be able to collect water samples, deploy heavy and light gear, and map ocean bottom with a “multi-beam” system.

The alterations underway include an updated lubrication system for the propulsion drives. They are not adding to the cost of the ship, Whitledge said.

About $145 million of a nearly $200 million dollar budget has been spent.

“Of course, you always want some money for contingency, as we call it, in case there is a problem, but right now we expect it to come in maybe slightly under budget,” Whitledge said.

Remaining dollars are largely designated for management, transportation and testing.

The Sikuliaq will undergo trials in Lake Michigan. Additional trials are planned for the Atlantic Ocean. An open house for the vessel is scheduled for November on the Potomac River.

The Sikuliaq eventually will head to Alaska by way of the Panama Canal.

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