Most research ships don’t live to see their 40’s, and to approach 50 is almost unheard-of. But the Albatross IV is quite an exception to this maritime rule. Today, thanks to a recent overhaul at SENESCO’s repair facility in Quonset Point, Rhode Island, she is back at her home base in Woods Hole, Massachusetts preparing to head back out to sea for another 5-7 years of ocean exploration.
The Southeastern New England Shipbuilding Corporation
(SENESCO) began its a major overhaul on the Albatross IV at the company’s Quonset Point headquarters in December 2002. Launched in 1962, the Albatross IV is the second oldest in a fleet of 15 research vessels used by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
(NOAA). The ship, based in Woods Hole, MA, normally conducts fisheries and oceanographic studies in the Gulf of Maine, Georges Bank, and the continental shelf/slope from Southern New England to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. It also serves in NOAA’s “Teacher At Sea” program, allowing schoolteachers on board to see science come to life and then to bring that knowledge back to their classrooms.
“A ship like ours typically receives routine maintenance a few times a year,” Albatross IV Commander Michael S. Abbott explained
in a recent interview. “However, a major repair project, like the one that’s being performed at SENESCO, usually takes about 6 or 7 months and only happens once or twice in a ship’s lifetime.” According to Cdr. Abbott, careful routine maintenance and major repairs like these have contributed to the Albatross IV’s unusual longevity. But in order to push the limits of nautical lifespans, this second major overhaul was a must. The ship’s first and only other repair project of this magnitude occurred in 1988. In 2001, NOAA decided that it was time for another significant repair period, and, as is required of most government agencies, they put the job out to bid in the form of a Request For Proposal (RFP).
“There were a number of other shipyards, including some real big ones, competing for this job,” recalled SENESCO President Bob Jarvis. SENESCO’s new 255-foot-long dry dock no doubt helped convince NOAA to do business with the growing company. Abbott wasn’t involved in the selection process, but he cited a few other reasons that could have contributed to the SENESCO choice. “Cost is always a deciding factor, but location is important as well. Having a regional shipyard perform this kind of major repair project is a great benefit to us.”
Being close to home offered crewmembers the luxury of spending more time with their families during the half-year repair process. That did wonders for morale, but it also helped reduce NOAA’s costs. If they had to go far from home to get the repairs done, NOAA would have had to find lodging for the crew during the 6-month hiatus. Another benefit that SENESCO offered was familiarity. “In the past, I’ve worked with the subcontractors that SENESCO has used on this project,” said Abbott, “so I know the kind of work that they’re capable of doing. Plus, SENESCO has been very responsive to our needs and concerns during the course of this project, so our relationship has stayed strong.”
The list of repair work is extensive, about 150 items long. SENESCO completely refitted and cleaned nearly every pipe in the Albatross’ HVAC system (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning). Without proper airflow, the confined space of a ship can be uncomfortable, causing work, health, and morale to suffer. Any deteriorated steel or aluminum was replaced or repaired, including sections of the decks, bulkheads, and hull. SENESCO installed brand new refrigerators for ship stores and scientific samples, a new boiler, fuel tanks, converted fuel tanks to ballast tanks, installed a new sewage treatment system and replaced navigational equipment on the bridge. The ship was also stripped to bare metal and repainted. A large portion of the mechanical and outfit overhaul was performed by SENESCO’s neighbor in Quonset, The Lightship Group. Hull painting was done by EDL Painters of Exeter, RI, who completely enclosed the vessel during blast/paint operations. A ship stability test was performed, and while the results aren’t back yet, Abbott says the test itself went well.