Thoma-Sea hosts keel laying for newest NOAA ship

(HOUMA, La.) — The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Thoma-Sea Marine Constructors held a keel-laying ceremony in Houma, La., on Wednesday for NOAA’s newest oceanographic research ship, Oceanographer.

During the ceremony, the initials of the ship’s sponsor, Linda Kwok Schatz, wife of U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii, was welded onto a steel plate that will be incorporated into the ship during construction. Although Oceanographer does not have a traditional keel due to modern shipbuilding methods, the ceremony was in keeping with centuries-old maritime tradition that formally recognizes the start of a ship’s construction.

“NOAA ships play a vital role in meeting the large and growing demand for oceanic data, critical for protecting lives and livelihoods,” said NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad. “The new capabilities of Oceanographer will contribute to NOAA’s sustained leadership in providing reliable, high-quality data to the nation, driving the New Blue Economy and doing so more efficiently than ever before.”

A welder from Thoma-Sea Marine Constructors welds the initials of Oceanographer’s sponsor, Linda Kwok Schatz, onto a steel plate that will be incorporated into the ship in keeping with maritime tradition. NOAA photo

Oceanographer will support a wide variety of missions, ranging from general oceanographic research and exploration to marine life, climate and ocean ecosystem studies. These missions include shallow coastal, continental shelf and worldwide ocean survey and data collection.

“Today’s keel-laying ceremony marks a major step forward both in the construction of Oceanographer and the revitalization of NOAA’s ship fleet,” said Rear Adm. Nancy Hann, director of NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operations (OMAO) and the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps.

NOAA rendering

Oceanographer is one of two ships being built for NOAA by Thoma-Sea. To support NOAA’s goal of reducing the agency’s carbon footprint, Oceanographer and its sister ship, Discoverer, will incorporate the latest technologies, including emissions controls and high-efficiency diesel engines that have potential to save 15,000 gallons per year for each vessel, resulting in an estimated reduction of approximately 5,700 tons of carbon dioxide.

“This efficiency is a success for the government, Thoma-Sea Marine Constructors and our planet, providing the lowest impact to the environment while studying the oceans we depend on,” said Thoma-Sea Managing Director Walter Thomassie. “It is with much enthusiasm that we begin this phase of the project.”

Oceanographer will continue the legacy of its namesake. The first Oceanographer served in the NOAA fleet from 1966 to 1996 and sailed throughout the world as it studied all aspects of oceanography.

Oceanographer will be home-ported in Honolulu, Hawaii. The ship is expected to join the NOAA fleet in 2025, with Discoverer to follow in 2026.

– National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

By Rich Miller