Science and Technology CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)

NERC NATIONAL OCEANOGRAPHY CENTRE RESEARCH VESSEL STATISTICS

Introduction

The National Oceanography Centre (NOC) operates two global class multidisciplinary research vessels, RRS Discovery and RRS James Cook on behalf of NERC for the UK marine science community. The National Marine Facilities—Sea Systems (NMFSS) group of NOC manages these vessels and supports a comprehensive suite of equipment comprising the National Marine Equipment Pool (NMEP) with a team of specialist technicians.

Usage

Figure 1 below shows combined activity for the two vessels operated by NMFSS over the current FY and previous five years. The current FY comprises less than two full ships years as the RRS Discovery completed its final science cruise in November 2012 and has recently been sold for recycling. However, taking the previous five full years, the annual average days spent at sea is 540—ie 270 for each ship. This is slightly lower than NERC’s planning figure of 550 annually for both ships, and reflects the substantially reduced sea days in FY08/09, when RRS Discovery suffered a major breakdown of her obsolete machinery control system (nb, the ship was originally launched in 1962).

Figure 1

NMFSS SHIP DAYS BY ACTIVITY FY07/08–FY 12/13

Table 1

NMFSS SHIP DAYS BY ACTIVITY FY07/08–12/13

Activity Category

FY07/08

FY08/09

FY09/10

FY10/11

FY11/12

FY12/13

Non Science

Lay-up

14

0

30

0

0

82

Refit/Maintenance

72

188

42

37

82

28

TOTAL

86
(12%)

188
(26%)

72
(10%)

37
(5%)

82
(11%)

110
(17%)

Science

Mob/Demob

111

83

99

105

86

83

Passage (Sea)

49

66

67

58

100

105

Trials (Sea)

24

41

27

29

25

25

Science (Sea)

462

352

465

501

437

319

TOTAL

646
(88%)

542
(74%)

658
(90%)

693
(95%)

648
(89%)

532
(83%)

It is also worth noting the following in interpreting Figure 1:

Maintenance days in FY11/12 is largely comprised of waiting time for a dry dock to become available in Mexico, following entanglement of the RRS Discovery’s prop in fishing gear in the Easter Pacific in January 2012.

Each ship spends 40–50 days each year in port mobilising and demobilising equipment between cruises. The actual number of days required is a function of the nature and complexity of the science, and consequently these days are designated are also counted as days available for science. The ships are designed to be flexible so the working decks and labs are reconfigured on a cruise-by-cruise basis to suit the planned science. In this respect, most equipment including the Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV), comprising over 90T of equipment is considered “portable”. The ships do not return to the UK to do this, but rather undertake this activity at a suitable port as close to the operating area as possible. NMFSS ships 800–1,000 Tonnes of freight, including ca. 150 20-foot ISO containers annually to underpin this activity.

Overall, the days available for science (science, transit and mobilisation days) were 87% for the period, while if the older RRS Discovery is discounted; the RRS James Cook achieved an average of 339 days (93%) available for science, of which an average of 288 days (79%) were spent at sea.

Figure 2 below shows the number of scientists embarked multiplied by the number of days at sea on science. The data shows that on average, NOC1 scientists account for 36% of the days, while the split between all NERC and non-NERC scientists is almost exactly 50/50, although in FY10/11 and FY11/12, the proportion of non-NERC days substantially exceeded the NERC days. Discounting FY08/09 and FY12/13, which comprised reduced ship availability, as explained above, there has been an upward trend in occupation since the RRS James Cook was introduced into service in 2006. Increasing trends towards multidisciplinary science teams has driven this and total science berths available on the two vessels will have increased from 18 and 28 prior to 2006 to 28 and 32 once the new RRS Discovery comes into service. These capacities are substantially larger than other research vessels operated by the fisheries laboratories as well as most commercial vessels.

Figure 2

SCIENTIST SEA DAYS BY PARENT INSTITUTE

Figure 3 and Figure 4 below indicate the general operating areas of the two vessels between FY08/09 and FY11/12.

It is clear from Figure 3 that the RRS Discovery has worked predominantly in the North Atlantic, and has been the workhorse for supporting the sustained observing Porcupine Abyssal Plain, RAPID/RAPIDWatch and Atlantic Meridonal Transect cruise series. The latter has regularly taken the ship as far afield as Punta Arenas at the southern tip of Chile. Nevertheless, the ship’s more limited capabilities; particularly lack of multibeam echosounder and dynamic positioning (DP) has progressively restricted its utility over recent years.

Figure 3

RRS DISCOVERY GEOGRAPHIC OPERATING AREA

Table 2

RRS DISCOVERY GEOGRAPHIC OPERATING AREA

Operating Area

2008–09

2009–10

2010–11

2011–12

Indian Ocean

0

0

0

0

Pacific Ocean

0

0

0

64

Southern Ocean

0

0

0

0

Caribbean

0

0

0

0

S Atlantic Ocean

0

33

110

27

N Atlantic Ocean

172

275

202

173

UK Shelf

193

57

53

101

In contrast the RRS James Cook has worked in more diverse and remote areas, generally reflecting cruises that require use of the ship’s dynamic positioning capability (required for ROV operations) and/or its greater scientific capabilities as well as berths.

Figure 4

RRS JAMES COOK GEOGRAPHIC OPERATING AREA

Table 3

RRS JAMES COOK GEOGRAPHIC OPERATING AREA

Operating Area

2008–09

2009–10

2010–11

2011–12

Indian Ocean

51

0

0

44

Pacific Ocean

33

0

0

0

Southern Ocean

11

40

78

51

Caribbean

10

51

43

0

S Atlantic Ocean

98

47

72

70

N Atlantic Ocean

101

195

158

107

UK Shelf

61

32

14

93

A significant proportion the UK Shelf time shown in both graphs is in connection with refits and major mobilisation of the vessels. Indeed science time on the UK shelf is very limited temporally and spatially (eg there has only been one large cruise in the North Sea in the last 10 years.) This has been particularly noted during the MSCC working group on research vessel operations, as the operating footprint is very different to the fisheries laboratory ships, which conversely work predominantly on the UK shelf.

Comparison with other Operators

Figure 5 below outlines activity of the main vessels of the Ocean Facilities Exchange Group (OFEG) during CY2012. The members of OFEG operate all eight non-polar global class European vessels and 12 out of 15 ocean class European vessels ships.2 As a consequence the data is a good basis for comparison, as the ships are generally of similar sizes and operating on a worldwide basis. The one exception to this is the Norwegian ships, which predominantly operate around their coast and continental shelf with occasional excursions to Iceland. This data shows that the RRS James Cook pattern is comparable to similar French and German vessels, but as noted above, 2012 is not a representative year for the RRS Discovery, which was subject to entanglement in fishing gear in the Pacific: this entailed a substantial delay and subsequent dry-docking, which has significantly reduced the number of days at sea in 2012.

Figure 5

OCEAN FACILITIES EXCHANGE GROUP (OFEG) SHIP ACTIVITY 2012

A number of other features need explaining:

France (Ifremer) operate their four main vessels with three crews;3 consequently utilisation of the Pourquoi Pas? and L’Atalante tends to be maximised, while the Thalassa and Le Suroit spend substantial periods laid up. The other French vessel Marion Dufresne, operated by IPEV is primarily a resupply vessel for the French sub-Antarctic islands in the Indian Ocean, so only operates in this role for the Austral season, and spends the remainder of the year as a training vessel or on charter.

Netherlands (NIOZ) only has funding to operate the Pelagia for about half the year; the remainder is spent on charter or laid up.

Spain (CSIC) has suffered significant funding cuts over the past year and as a consequence, the Sarmiento da Gamboa has spent extended periods tied up alongside in its home port of Vigo.

Running Costs

Informal discussions with other operators have repeatedly indicated that both the NOC and BAS operations are among the most cost-effective for global class vessels: The NATO Undersea Research Centre (NURC) and US National Science Foundation (NSF) have both provided data that indicates comparable costs for like vessels in their fleets, while information provided by Germany has indicated costs which are substantially greater. It is worth noting that while the NSF vessels are publicly run, operation of NATO’s vessel Alliance is contracted out, as are the majority of the German vessels.

In addition to these informal discussions, a subset of operators, comprising a selection of in-house, outsourced and Companies Limited by Guarantee (CLG), from the International Research Ship Operators’ (IRSO) group undertook a formal benchmarking of their ship operations in 2009. While the purpose of this exercise was predominantly for the benefit of the Irish Marine Institute (MI), who were re-tendering their outsourced ship management contract at the time, the data was shared with all participants. The Irish chose to index the data by ship length, and although this is a poor measure for this purpose, both BAS and NOC were close to the average for the group on this basis. The data in Figure 6 re-works this data indexed instead to Gross Registered Tonnage, which is considered to be a better measure: the reasoning being that the NOC operated ships are both of similar length, however operating costs for the larger RRS James Cook are significantly larger, mainly due to fuel consumption and maintenance. Under this measure, both the NOC and BAS operations come out as most economic, while under both measures the average of in-house costs was lower than the outsourced operations.

Figure 6

INTERNATIONAL RESEARCH SHIP OPERATORS (IRSO) BENCHMARKING 2009

In considering the above, the following factors are worth noting:

The National Institute for Water and Atmosphere—NIWA (NZ) costs do not include scientific technical support, unlike the others, so these costs are artificially low.

The Ifremer (France) fleet includes three small vessels of less than 25m in length and ca. 100 GRT each.

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation—CSIRO (Australia) and MI (Eire) operations are both outsourced to P&O Maritime Services.

Figure 7 below reflects a more recent exercise conducted during the 2011 NERC Ship Management Review, which baselined cost across the four NERC vessels. These figures show that crew pay costs continue to be the main cost component of operating these vessels, while it should also be noted that maintenance costs can vary substantially from year to year. Fuel costs have been explicitly excluded as they are closely related to operating regime, nevertheless these are the most rapidly increasing component of ship operating costs. Typical annual fuel costs for the NERC vessels range from £1.35–2.4 million depending on vessel and programme.

Figure 7

NERC ANNUAL SHIP RUNNING COSTS (ACTUAL) FOR 2010–11

The data have also been compared with NSF’s costs for same year4 for the RV Knorr (operated in-house by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute—WHOI), which is similar in size to RRS Discovery5 as below:

Running Costs

£0.724M

Maintenance

£1.091M

Pay

£2.215M

Total:

£4.030M (£1 = US$1.60)

The reality is that the majority of ship running costs such as pay, fuel and maintenance are incurred irrespective of management model, while pay and the majority of maintenance are fixed costs and unaffected by usage. Outsourced operations tend to be at their most economic when the management company can spread its management costs over a larger number of vessels. This also produces economy of scale in buying insurance, although this is not relevant to the NERC vessels while they remain in-house, but Hull and Machinery Insurance for the two NOC operated vessels has been quoted at £230k for both vessels. Most commercial companies also employ their staff through offshore agencies, thereby avoiding NI contributions, while many also source cheaper labour for lower skilled roles from Asia. NERC’s continuing policy has been to source its labour from the EU and not to avoid contributions to the UK exchequer. Finally, NERC would be subject to VAT on services not subject to end-user relief provided by a contractor.

Several commercial operators have asserted that they can run the NERC vessels with less crew, however evidence from a variety of sources suggest that this is unlikely:

Figure 8 below is extracted from the annual IRSO manning survey and shows crew composition for the global class vessels operated by members, with a variety of management models. This clearly shows that the NOC vessels are the most leanly manned, and generally comparable to similar US vessels.

Figure 8

MANNING OF GLOBAL CLASS RESEARCH VESSELS

Three ship management companies, P&O Maritime Services, Smit UK and Anglo Eastern were questioned during the 2009 NERC Ship Management Review. All three clearly indicated that they would retain the current NERC manning levels if they were contracted to operate these vessels. They also confirmed that the 2:1 man/berth (crew FTE per onboard rank/post) in NERC was, “normal or even low in the market place.”6

None of the ship operators interviewed in 2009 (Alfred Wegner Institut, [Germany], MI [Eire] or Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science—CEFAS [UK],) could demonstrate quantitative savings from having outsourced their ship operations. In 2011 CEFAS and MI were again interviewed, together with NURC (NATO), Geomar (Germany) and CSIRO (Australia). All confirmed that manning levels on their ships had not changed as a consequence of outsourcing.

NERC does not discount outsourcing management of its ships, (indeed NOC management is positive towards such a measure,) however it would difficult to justify this on cost saving alone, and business risk reduction (particularly with respect to access to a larger crew pool and more efficient spares procurement) would be the main driver.

January 2013

1 Includes University of Southampton scientists based at the NOC waterfront campus.

2 Only the global class and the main ocean class are shown in the graph.

3 Actually six crews as there are two mariners per post.

4 283 days at sea and 59 days maintenance.

5 RV Knorr 85m LOA and 2,518 GRT compared to RRS Discovery 90m and 3,008 GRT.

6 Report of the Ship Operations Review Project, NERC, February 2009.

Prepared 9th April 2013