Stormont department awards £28m shipbuilding contract to Spanish firm Astilleros Armon

New hybrid research vessel will replace AFBI’s Belfast-based RV Corystes

A computer generated rendering image of the new AFBI Research Vessel
A computer generated rendering image of the new AFBI research vessel.

A £28 million contract to build a new government-owned research vessel has been awarded to Spanish shipyard Astilleros Armon Vigo S.A.

The Department of Agriculture Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) awarded the tender for the new 52.8 metre vessel with the shipbuilder on March 26.

It followed a £1.85m design contract awarded to Norwegian naval architects Skipsteknisk AS in January 2021.

The new boat will replace the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute’s 35-year-old research vessel RV Corystes, which operates out of the Port of Belfast.

Due to be delivered in February 2027, AFBI said the new boat will strengthen and support marine science in Northern Ireland for the next 30 years.

AFBI said it will be the first hybrid ship within the UK and Ireland’s regional research vessel fleet, and will be capable of spending 21 days at sea.

The institute’s chief executive, Dr Stanley McDowell, said: “The work which will be undertaken on the new vessel is essential for the sustainable management of our marine ecosystems and natural resources, biodiversity, and future climate action plans.”

The body said the contract was awarded after an extensive open tender process managed by Stormont’s Construction Procurement Delivery (CPD) service.

AFBI said the Astilleros Armon shipyard has a global reputation for building highly advanced vessels.

The same company recently built the RV Tom Crean, a 53 metre research vessel delivered to the Marine Institute Ireland.

Pieter-Jan Schön, AFBI director of environment and marine science, said the research vessel-based programme originated in the north during the late 1980s, when fishing trawler RV Lough Foyle was converted for scientific use.

AFBI’s Pieter-Jan Schön (centre) with Hans Ove HolmØy (left) and Santiago Martin from Astilleros Armon Vigo S.A. (right).
AFBI’s Pieter-Jan Schön (centre) with Hans Ove HolmØy (left) and Santiago Martin from Astilleros Armon Vigo S.A. (right).

“When complete, our new multipurpose research vessel will incorporate the latest technologies providing a versatile platform from which a wide range of marine environmental and fisheries research can be undertaken including fisheries surveys, environmental change monitoring, seabed mapping and research on ocean processes.

“All of which is integral to improve our knowledge and helping scientists understand the impact of the ever-changing marine environment and rising sea levels.

“Crucially, the new vessel will allow for effective international collaboration and will take AFBI’s state-of-the-art research into the future.”