VESSEL REFIT | Falkor (Too) – Ex-platform supplier rebuilt for global deep-sea research

Photo: Schmidt Ocean Institute

California-based research organisation Schmidt Ocean Institute recently welcomed a rebuilt research vessel into operational service.

The Cayman Islands-flagged, 363- by 66-foot (110.6- by 20-metre) Falkor (Too) is the former Polar Queen, which was originally built in 2011 as a platform supply vessel (PSV) in support of the European offshore energy industry. The PSV, which had also been used for walk-to-work and offshore construction duties, was acquired by the institute from Norwegian owner GC Rieber Shipping in 2021 to replace the older, smaller Falkor. It will be made available to scientists worldwide wishing to expand their respective deep sea research activities.

Photo: Schmidt Ocean Institute

Upgrades to the interior spaces include a 105-square-metre main laboratory, wet labs, a science seawater lab, a computer electronics lab, a robotics lab, and a cold lab for biological work. Exterior additions include a 150-tonne crane, two moonpools, high-resolution ocean mapping equipment, and a 10,333-square-foot (960-square-metre) aft deck for interdisciplinary ocean research and exploration. The accommodation spaces have a total of 98 berths for the crew, scientists, technicians, and other visitors. All these facilities are distributed across seven decks.

Photo: Schmidt Ocean Institute

Among the key items of equipment are three multi-beam echosounder arrays totalling 11 tonnes of sonars, 15 other acoustic sensors, a special system for microplastic water assessment, and seven over-the-side launch and recovery handling systems for underwater robots and other tools.

The vessel is powered by six MAN 9L21/31 1,710kW diesel generators driving two Voith Schneider 5,096hp (3,800kW) propellers to deliver a maximum speed of 15.8 knots. Also fitted are a Rolls-Royce (now Kongsberg) 1,810hp (1,350kW) retractable azimuthing thruster, two 1,877hp (1,400kW) bow thrusters housing controllable-pitch propellers, and a helicopter deck capable of handling a 14-ton (12.8-tonne) helicopter.

Photo: Schmidt Ocean Institute

The refit works on Falkor (Too) were carried out at Spain’s Freire Shipyard, which had also built the vessel in 2011. On the ship’s inaugural science expedition, it will explore one of the world’s most extensive underwater mountain chains, the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. More than 20 scientists will study hydrothermal vents, which are hot springs on the ocean floor made by underwater volcanoes. The scientists will search for lost city vents – older hydrothermal towers made of limestone – that have a chemical makeup thought to be most similar to when life began on earth. The institute said the microbes living on these vents could provide insight into the conditions that facilitated life’s origin.

Photo: Schmidt Ocean Institute

Click here for more news stories, features, and vessel reviews as part of this month’s focus on the research and training sector.

Falkor (Too)
Type of vessel:Oceanographic research vessel
Classification:DNV Ice-C
Flag:Cayman Islands
Owner:Schmidt Ocean Institute, USA
Builder:Freire Shipyard, Spain
Length overall:363 feet (110.6 metres)
Beam:66 feet (20 metres)
Draught:26.2 feet (8.0 metres)
Propulsion:2 x Voith Schneider Propellers, each 5,096 hp (3,800 kW)
Generators:6 x MAN 9L21/31, each 1,710 kW
Side thrusters:Kongsberg, 1,810 hp (1,350 kW); 2 x Kongsberg, each 1,877 hp (1,400 kW)
Maximum speed:15.8 knots
Other equipment installed:2 x moonpools; microplastic assessment system; flight deck
Type of fuel:Diesel
Accommodation:Laboratories; cabins

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