Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum 1

Submission from the Gardline Group



  Marine science is a costly exercise, however utilisation of the private sector will significantly improve value for money without compromising either quality or quantity.

  We would appreciate your consideration of the approach embodied within this email that would lead to significant reductions in operational costs for the vessels operated by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), CEFAS and others.

  As an owner and operator of 10 large ocean going survey vessels we have a substantial capability in vessel management, marine data collection, interpretation and ocean science in general, providing such services to both public and private sector clients.

  It is our view that the private sector could operate government research vessels for circa 20% less than current practice. The reason for this bold assertion is that we have studied the available cost structure from publicly available sources and we know what it costs to run our own vessels, five of which were previously UK government owned.

  Our experience and understanding ranges from the provision of vessels under charter to NERC in the early 70's eg RV Researcher, to the purchase of the "Charles Darwin" in 2006—now renamed RV Ocean Researcher and operated by Gardline.


  One of the main costs associated with marine science is that of vessel operation. Savings can be gained from attention to the following:

    (a)  Increase in available days at sea. Government survey ships are typically on task for 200 days, yet similar commercial vessels operate for 280-300 paid days. This increase in activity could mean reducing the fleet or utilising the vessels for other work so that the day rate, and therefore costs, when on task are reduced.

    (b)  Generous sea going allowances are paid to civil service scientists and technicians, and although some form of "time at sea payment" is appropriate in the case of CEFAS for example an additional £100/day or £60/day exchange for an extra day of leave applies, ie a 10 day trip will generate an extra £1,000 or 10 days leave plus £400.

    (c)  Vessel crewing—"Charles Darwin" and "Discovery" have a crew of 22, where commercial vessels performing the same task would have at least five crew less—and with duplicated crews to provide relief this equates to a saving of 10 crew per ship.

    (d)  The vessels can be used for paid commercial or government survey operations to generate income in between scientific activities.

    (e)  If incorporated as part of a commercial fleet then (i) onshore support can be provided appropriately and 365 days a year, and (ii) vessel manning can be optimised, particularly to fill gaps between projects, rather than what we can deduce as being two crews allocated per ship, busy or not.


  3.1  This email is an initial introduction and can be further developed with operational details as required, however the opportunity for say 30 minutes to discuss our suggestion with the committee at a date to suit would we believe be a valuable contribution.

  3.2  The commercial sector operates within a competitive environment to the highest safety standards providing service globally and continuously, without the constraints of pre-arranged external schedules, in what can truly be described as a demanding environment. This capability if applied to the operation of government research vessels will unquestionably provide substantial savings.

  3.3  The commercial sector including Gardline has developed in depth, technology and experience over recent decades as a result of increased spending for hydrocarbon exploration, intercontinental telephone cables, oil and gas pipelines; plus governments from many countries have developed their Exclusive Economic Zones with regional hydrographic surveys, environmental monitoring, sand and gravel extraction, offshore wind farms, fisheries science and enforcement etc.

  3.4  A list of Gardline vessels and their current operations (29 December 2006) is detailed below to illustrate operations undertaken. Of marginal relevance is the fact that the Gardline Group is a privately owned British company, of more importance is that research vessel experience from the poles to the tropics has developed over the past 35 years.

NameLocation Activity

Sea ExplorerNorth Sea
Danish Sector
Geotechnical survey
Sea ProfilerGreat Yarmouth, UK Dry dock
Ocean EndeavourIndonesia Hydrographic survey (exploration)
Ocean SeekerNorth Sea
UK Sector
Geophysical survey
Sea TridentCongo
West Africa
Geophysical survey
Sea SurveyorNorth Sea
German Sector
Geophysical survey
TridensNorth Sea
UK Sector
Geophysical survey
Ocean ResearcherNorth Sea
UK Sector
Pipeline route survey
L'espoirOn passage to
Mobilisation for hydrographic survey
TritonOn passage to Australia Mobilisation for Australian Government charter


  We note that the cost of the newly acquired (Norwegian built) RV James Cook is £36 million, which is greater in value than the entire 10 ship fleet of Gardline vessels which undertake virtually the same work with greater productivity. This vessel is an expensive resource and should, in our view, be used as efficiently as possible.


  We request that consideration is given to putting UK Government research vessel operation and data collection out to commercial tender as demonstrable capacity exists and undoubted cost savings will apply.


  Although we would not expect an immediate response we would be pleased to take members of the Committee to sea for a day, or if inappropriate a visit to Great Yarmouth to view the facilities, support services available and vessels if alongside.

December 2006

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