Kim Juniper, PhD, Professor, BC Leadership Chair in Ocean Ecosystems and Global Change.

An old coast guard ship could be transformed into the "world's greenest oceanresearch platform" off B.C.'s coast by next spring.

"It's going to be essentially a mobile observatory in the Salish Sea that will be studying oceanographic conditions that are important to survival of fish stocks," said Kim Juniper, lead scientist for the project.

The job of slicing the ship in half has gone to tender, with bids for the shipyard work, expected to be worth several million dollars, closing April 10.

Still to receive a new name, the vessel, originally called the Tsekoa II, will be equipped with an environmentally friendly hybrid propulsion system that will be tested at sea. Hybrid ships are increasingly popular on the world's oceans as designers search for the best green technology for vessels. One example is a Nissan solar-powered cargo ship.

For UVic's vessel, the winning shipyard will carry out the novel task of extending the ship's length to 38.5 metres.

According to Juniper, the complex job "involves cutting it in half, putting a 9.9-metre insert in the middle, cutting the bow off and putting on a new bow, cutting off the stern and putting on a new stern – and then ripping out the engines and putting in a new diesel electric hybrid propulsion system.

"There will be the old bones left, but it will definitely look very different from the original ship."

Juniper, a marine ecologist, is the B.C. Leadership Chair in Marine Ecosystems and Global Change, and associate director of NEPTUNE Canada, part of the University of Victoria's Ocean Networks Canada.

UVic's tender package includes 150 drawings and all the technical specifications, Juniper said.

Several potential bidders have viewed the vessel in recent weeks, including a couple from Washington state.

Built in 1985 by Allied Shipyards of Vancouver for the federal Public Works Department, the vessel was used for maintenance work along the coast. The Canadian Coast Guard took it over in the early 1990s for similar work and fisheries patrols. The vessel has not been in service since 2005. UVic bought it for $1 on the condition that it be used for research.

Although UVic owns the ship, it's considered a regional facility also used by UVic, Vancouver Island University, the University of B.C., Simon Fraser University and the University of Alberta, which joined a funding application to the Canadian Foundation for Innovation to support the research. Other organizations are also expected to use the vessel.

The cost of the project is more than $22 million, with 40 per cent coming from the foundation, 40 per cent from the B.C. Knowledge Development Fund and the rest from Western Economic Diversification and other sources, including hoped-for private sector inkind support, UVic said.

Daily usage rates will run to about $8,000 to $9,000, Juniper said. The vessel will have room for 16 crew and researchers.

The initial plan is for the vessel to have a six-month operating season. Tactical Marine Solutions of Victoria will provide the crew and operate the vessel.

As for the off-season, Juniper hopes it will be moored in the Inner Harbour to serve as an interpretive centre for the public.

The ship will have a cruising speed of nine to 10 knots. "There's no real need to go at warp speed," Juniper said. It will likely travel about 20 to 30 kilometres per day.

Features include an on-board laboratory plus three portable modular laboratories in containers, which can be rotated as needed on a special pad.

One lab will hold the hydrogen fuel cell power system and monitoring equipment. That will be used about twice a month, Juniper said. A second lab will be a maintenance workshop for the nonprofit Canadian Scientific Submersible Facility's remotely operated platform for a submersible used on the VENUS cabled undersea laboratory.

The third lab will be a wet lab, where scientists will work with messy samples such as bottom muds, which can be hosed down.

A suite of acoustic instruments will be slung in a gondola beneath the keel. It will include multibeam sonar, passive listening equipment and a fisheries sonar that will allow observers to see plankton and sea life, from tiny krill to hake to salmon.

"You can imagine the ship being able to go back and forth across the Strait of Georgia and spot schools of fish and even the plankton that they are feeding on," Juniper said.

One system in the gondola will pump water up to a lab. Its analysis will allow researchers to map conditions on the ocean's surface while the vessel moves through the water.

The ups and downs of B.C.'s wild salmon stocks have made headlines for years. Researchers hope to unlock some of the mystery around conditions required for their survival.

When salmon smolts come down the Fraser River and reach the ocean, their survival often depends upon the food that is immediately available, Juniper said. It's hard to predict what food will be there from year to year. It's hoped that research on the ship will lead to a better understanding of how the winter snowpack and the volume of snowmelt flowing down the river interacts with the climate in the spring and summer to create growing conditions for plankton blooms that are eaten by salmon.

Acoustic equipment will likely be used to survey the Fraser Delta, where sediments are piling up. "At some point, we could have an underwater landslide. So we need to know more about where these sediments are, [and] how stable they are," Juniper said.

The high-tech ship will be propelled by diesel generators, hydrogen fuel cells and plug-in battery power, all combined in a test package for green shipping technologies. "The whole electrical design is very sophisticated and quite innovative," Juniper said.

A computerized system will decide how best to use the power from different sources. "It'll be a smart system that will really allow us to make maximum use of every drop of diesel fuel."

After being charged overnight, the ship will be started without the use of noisy diesel generators. If the ship is running on a slow cruising speed, the battery will run for at least three or four hours. It will not be the main source of energy, but will be useful when quiet is required, such as when entering ecologically sensitive areas or listening for whales.

Batteries could be used for running ship systems, allowing generators to be shut down overnight.

The ship will carry three generators. When used, a generator will consistently run at one speed. Any unused electricity will be stored in the batteries. "They are acting as kind of a buffer for any excess energy that we may be generating at sea. That allows us to run the generators at optimal speed and fuel consumption," Juniper said.

When the fuel-cell system is on board in its lab, it will feed electricity into the same switchboard that is handling the other systems. Details are still being worked out, Juniper said. "We'll be able to take enough hydrogen to be able to run for the day." The original plan was to have the fuel-cell system installed on board, but Transport Canada would not approve carrying hydrogen below deck, he said.


– Dimensions: 265 gross tonnage, 38.5 metres long, 7.25 metres breadth, 2.12 metres draft.

– Primary propulsion: advanced hybrid system with diesel generators, hydrogen fuel cells and plug-in battery power which supports a zero-emission electric mode. Two 22kW azimuthing (rotating) stern thrusters and one 90 kW bow thruster, driven by electric motors.

– Hybrid system: three 215 kW lowemission diesel generators. Hydrogen fuel-cell power system. On board PowerCube hydrogen storage, lithium-ion battery of 22 kWh.

– Deck equipment: A-frame, winch pads and cranes for using plankton nets, scientific instruments, and remotely operated vehicles, and portable wet lab.


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