NIWA owns and operates New Zealand’s only purposebuilt, open-ocean, fisheries and oceanographic research vessels – Kaharoa and Tangaroa. Both are heavily utilised and deliver essential research and management services for our maritime nation and globally. Kaharoa is coming to the end of an extraordinary life of science over the past 43 years, including an average of 130 days per year at sea carrying out fisheries research. It is affectionately known within NIWA as ‘The Little Ship That Can’. Kaharoa II substantially advances these capabilities, opening the door to a vast array of new applications and horizons. The new vessel is due to arrive in Wellington in August.

Sitting at just under 500 tonnes, Kaharoa II provides a highly sophisticated platform at an affordable rate. Some 200 tonnes heavier and eight metres longer than its predecessor, this multi-purpose vessel has increased deck and laboratory space, is equipped to support both current and future technologies and can accommodate more science and technical personnel.

Kaharoa II is a significant component of NIWA’s capital investment plan, and a key tool for New Zealand’s science needs. NIWA’s Deputy Chief Executive Dr Rob Murdoch says we need the right equipment as well as the right expertise to deliver the science the nation needs.

“The current vessel has served New Zealand’s marine science needs for over 40 years, but replacement was the only feasible option to meet future demands. Maintaining a national science research vessel capability is essential to build resilience and adapt to climate change, to realise and sustainably manage marine resources, and to maintain the health of our marine environment.

“Ongoing access to such a marine research vessel is essential to deliver national priorities and support our Pacific neighbours. Kaharoa II is the result of six years of planning, from stakeholder engagement to detailed design, construction and launch. We needed a state-ofthe- art research platform with similar operating costs, but enhanced capabilities, to the current vessel. The new vessel meets those exacting requirements,” Murdoch says.

“Constantly evolving capability in the marine realm is vital to ensure that NIWA’s research fleet continues to provide world-class fisheries and oceanographic science and deliver an excellent platform for charter opportunities.”

Designed by leading naval architecture firm Skipsteknisk, which also designed Tangaroa, the vessel sets a new benchmark for vessels of its size.

“It’s been a complex project, creating a multipurpose vessel that is under 500 tonnes and still meets, and in many cases exceeds, the current demands of fisheries, oceanography and a variety of maritime commercial operations,” says Manager – Marine Resources, Rob Christie, who’s been directing the project.

“You can’t just order a research vessel, ready for use. Imagine designing and building a new model of car from scratch – that’s effectively what we have done with this vessel, with the added complexity of extended endurance for 15 people, as well as additional winches, cranes, an A-frame and advanced electronic sensors and systems.

Scientific equipment has become larger and more sophisticated over the last decade. This demands more space, longer deployment cables and bigger winches, increased electrical power, and high-precision station keeping for equipment deployment and operation.

“NIWA required all the capability of a larger research vessel, packed into 36.1 metres. It’s a delicate balance between buoyancy, weight and space. The vessel will offer an affordable in-country solution to commercial entities requiring offshore marine services.

“The world is looking on with interest at this build, in how small you can go whilst keeping a high level of scientific functionality. In a world striving for energy efficiency, many other countries will see the benefit of a small research platform that can maintain and, in some areas, increase capability.”

Managing the build Kaharoa II was built by the Spanish shipbuilders Astilleros Armon, in Vigo, northern Spain, and was delivered on time, on budget and to specification. NIWA had two full time, highly experienced building supervisors working in Vigo for more than a year. NIWA Ship Technical Director Greg Foothead was one of them, and he oversaw the build.

“Being involved in the construction of a new research vessel is a once-in-a-career opportunity. It was fantastic to work with the teams in Spain. They pride themselves on their work and they have built us the ‘Swiss Army Knife of ships’. Seeing an idea come to life from a piece of paper was almost surreal. When we brought the crew over to take the vessel home, I think they were a bit taken aback at how much bigger it felt.

“The minute I saw the captain behind the wheel for the first time, with a massive grin, that was a highlight for me.” Once the final fit-out and sea trials were complete, NIWA took the keys and started the long journey home in April.

“So far, the vessel has exceeded our expectations of how it would perform on the journey, and the crew have been blown away by the technology and comfort ,” Foothead says.

“It feels a lot bigger than its length, and has good seakeeping, with stability tanks to help soften the vessel motion. There is a lot to learn on the new vessel, including the impressive advances in technology, but we have excellent people who are up to the task

“And it’s not just their workplace, it’s their home. Living onboard for 30-day stints is hard, so getting the living areasright is important for crew and scientists alike. The quality of accommodation will impress everyone,” says Foothead.

Putting the vessel through its paces Fisheries research will be a major part of the workload for Kaharoa II, and it has been designed accordingly. Constructed to an international maritime classification of Silent DNV Acoustic and Fisheries Class, the vessel operates with low levels of radiated noise to maximise its acoustic system capabilities. Those acoustic capabilities have been significantly increased, with a five-channel Kongsberg echosounder, whereas Kaharoa had only one sounder. The vessel has a 10-tonne A-frame supported by a 6-tonne deck crane, an 85 square metre working deck and a larger wetlab, with an additional fish measuring station.

Upon its arrival in New Zealand, Kaharoa II will go straight to work using a new towed video array to collect underwater imagery on seafloor biodiversity, habitats and fish in the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park, as part of a Fisheries New Zealand project. However, it will not take over full operations from the original Kaharoa until 2025. Kaharoa and Kaharoa II will begin a series of joint voyages, operating together for two months to intercalibrate fisheries survey methods. This work is vital to ensure continuity of the valuable time-series built up by Kaharoa over the past four decades – crucial to New Zealand’s marine resource management.

Chief Scientist – Fisheries Dr Richard O’Driscoll says Kaharoa II is a significant component of NIWA’s commitment to the next 40 years of fisheries research in New Zealand.

“We will use Kaharoa II to continue monitoring the abundance and distribution of New Zealand inshore fish – building on time-series data from Kaharoa around the North and South Islands. These surveys monitor a range of important species, like snapper and tarakihi, as well as spawning hoki and scampi. The vessel will continue our Fisheries New Zealand research and provide opportunity via increased capability to trial improvements.

One highlight for us is the multi-frequency fisheries and bathymetric acoustic sounder suite that is permanently onboard. “Having been onboard the vessel at the shipyard in Spain, it is great to see all the years of planning turning into reality. I’m super excited to see the vessel arrive in New Zealand and really look forward to getting onboard to start counting and measuring fish.”

Fisheries New Zealand’s Director Science & Information, Simon Lawrence says Fisheries New Zealand, and its predecessors, have worked with NIWA for many years to undertake fisheries research projects.

“NIWA’s research vessels provide a world-class platform to deliver critical science inputs into our fisheries science and management processes. Over the years there have been countless voyages by NIWA scientists on Kaharoa, and the much larger Tangaroa, all of which have contributed to our stock assessments and broader understanding of marine ecosystems. We look forward to the new Kaharoa II being deployed in our waters and continuing the important work that NIWA does to support our understanding of the marine environment,” says Lawrence.

Expanding operations across oceans Kaharoa has a long history of working across the seas of the Southern Hemisphere, operating throughout the Indian and Pacific oceans, from Cape Town to Santiago. These operations include the Argo programme, a global ocean monitoring initiative involving more than 30 countries, and Seabed 2030, an international effort to map the world’s ocean floor. Since 2001, Kaharoa has deployed more than 2,220 Argo floats. About one-third of the world’s active Argo floats have been deployed from Kaharoa – far more than from any other research vessel worldwide. On its maiden voyage to New Zealand, Kaharoa II continued that legacy, deploying 64 floats across the Atlantic Ocean, and it is scheduled to deploy a further 88 in the Pacific Ocean.

This highly sophisticated, significantly enhanced and cost-effective research platform is set to transform New Zealand’s marine research capabilities. It has the capacity, for example, to assist in the deployment and maintenance of the New Zealand tsunami monitoring and detection network. It can also load and offload in places with limited port facilities – such as some of our Pacific Island neighbours.

With its 30-day, 6,500-nautical mile range, Kaharoa II is destined to become a familiar sight around New Zealand and much further afield.