By David McLean Shoup

When Ovid wrote about Tulcea from the banks of the Danube River two thousand years ago, shipbuilding traditions in the ancient city were already centuries old. It is unlikely Ovid could have imagined the sheer scale of the ocean going vessels which make their maiden voyages from the Tulcea shipyards each year, and 2019 saw Tulcea make a new mark. By year’s end, the Vard shipyard in Tulcea completed the first half of what will become the world’s largest state of the art research ship, the REV.

The REV Ocean team estimates that the with the Romanian portion of construction finished, the ship is now 53% completed.

REV Ocean’s Communications Manager Lawrence Hislop said the Vard shipyard in Tulcea offered the ideal resources for a project of this magnitude. 

“The Vard shipyard in Tulcea was chosen because it was the most relevant for building the main steel structure for this particular type of research vessel,” Hislop told OZB.

At over 180 meters, the REV Explorer is even longer than most US guided missile cruisers, and will earn the distinction of being the largest yacht in the world when it hits the high seas next year.

“This is a major milestone towards achieving our mission of achieving one healthy ocean” REV Ocean CEO Nina Jensen told Yacht Harbour when the ship arrived in one of Vard’s Norweigian shipyards after the tugboat assisted journey from Tulcea this fall. 

Jensen told CNET that she first stepped onto the ship during its Tulcea construction phase and was awed by the scale of the ship.

Photo by Guillaume Plisson

“I think daunting best describes it, but of course also quite thrilling in terms of what we can achieve with such an amazing ship.”

One particularly unique aspect of the REV is its central moon pool, allowing submersibles to be lowered from within the ship directly into the ocean depths.

“We will have a world first submarine that can take up to 3 people down to approximately  2,300 meters, both to do scientific discovery, exploration, and and to take samples,” Jensen added.

REV Ocean, a non profit foundation, was founded by Jensen and the financial backer behind the entire project, Norwegian billionaire Kjell Inge Røkke. But this is no luxury yacht. Jensen is the former CEO of the World Wildlife Fund Norway, and Røkke commissioned the ship with one main purpose. 

Kjell Inge Røkke’s journey to becoming Norway’s wealthiest man is deeply intertwined with the ocean. His business life began as a fisherman in Alaska at age 18 and got fully underway when he purchased his own fishing trawler while still in his early twenties. Now the majority shareholder in a large industrial firm specializing in maritime and oil investments, Røkke, by financing the world’s largest ocean research vessel, is giving back to the sea that helped propel him forward towards financial success.

Such a project could not come at a better time. The ocean is hurting. The REV’s technological capacities far outpace any research ship today, and will allow scientists to take measurements six kilometers below the ocean’s surface, including deep beneath the ocean floor to take stock of the great mysteries that lie beneath.

Significantly, the ship has a clean closed system recycling component that allows it to burn up to five tons of plastic per day. According to the British Natural History Museum, between five million and upwards of twelve million tons of plastic are dumped in the ocean every year, so while the REV will have its work cut out for it, this is a critical start and an important component. 

With a capacity for nearly one hundred operators and scientists to live comfortably on the boat for up to four months at sea, Jensen said she hopes the ship will function as a place to foster innovative thinking with important players who represent varying approaches to saving marine environment. 

“We want to bring together scientists, NGOs, key decision makers, innovators, artists and a wide variety of people to collectively brainstorm and work on dedicated solutions for the major ocean challenges,” Jensen said. 

So what’s the next move for this titan of a boat? 
“The construction part in Romania is now complete and the rest of the work will be done in Norway and Germany,” Hislop said. “The boat will be in Norway from now until April and then in Germany for about 10 months. The first sea trials will happen in about 2-3 months.”

Cover photo by Bogdan Vasilescu

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