Ongoing Fixes Delay Arrival Of UAF’s New Arctic Research Ship

Next month marks a year since the launch of the National Science Foundation’s new Arctic research vessel Sikuliaq. The 261-foot ice class ship, to be operated by the University of Alaska Fairbanks, remains at dock at a shipyard in Marinette, Wisconsin.

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UAF project principal investigator Terry Whitledge is closely tracking work on the vessel.

Sikuliaq floats in the Menominee River just after launch. Photo by Dan Bross, KUAC - Fairbanks.
Sikuliaq floats in the Menominee River just after launch. Photo by Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks.

“We’re a littel behind schedule, but, you know, these things are very hard to predict,” Whitledge  said. “It’s a pretty complex set of systems that have to go together to make everything work. We had hoped originally – way back three years ago – that we would have everything completed by July; well we’ve found a few things that we needed to fix or to alter, and so we’re running maybe 2-3 months behind what we had anticipated.”

The Sikuliaq was originally scheduled to arrive at its home port of Seward in January, but will now likely deploy directly to research next spring. Whitledge says ongoing fixes, including an updated lubrication system for the propulsion drives, are not adding to the cost of the ship.

He says about $145 million of a nearly $200 million dollar budget has been spent.

“Of course, you always want some money for contingency, as we call it, in case there is a problem, but right now we expect it to come in maybe slightly under budget,” Whitledge  said.

Whitledge cautions that a lot of the remaining dollars are allocated to management, transportation and testing costs over the next 10 months.

Trials of the Sikuliaq in Lake Michigan are the next step. After that, the University will officially accept the ship on behalf of the National Science Foundation.

An on-board open house is scheduled for November on the Potomac River as the Sikuliaq continues trials in the Atlantic, and begins a long trip to the Arctic through the Panama Canal.

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Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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