New recommendations on European ocean research fleets

On 23 April 2007 the Marine Board-ESF has launched a report entitled “European Ocean Research Fleets – Towards a Common Strategy and Enhanced Use” which includes an extensive survey of European research fleets as well as recommendations on improved management for the future.

For more than a century, ships provided the only means to access the sea surface, water and the sea floor for scientific research. The development of satellites and floats changed this exclusive access to gathering information on the seas and oceans by ships. Nevertheless, research vessels and associated equipment are still indispensable in providing the huge sets of data necessary to develop the numerical models for climate evolution. Research vessels are also indispensable when needing to sample the sea floor and servicing the seabed observatories that will play a key role in marine sciences in the near future.

In 2006, ESFRI (European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures) recommended four marine research infrastructures in key areas. Besides existing collaboration, coordination structures such as the OFEG (Ocean Facilities Exchange Group) already operate and have demonstrated an improved and flexible use of ships for the benefit of the whole scientific community.
European research fleets represent a scientific infrastructure which needs both national funding and European support.

To highlight these facts and to contribute to European research infrastructure integration, the Marine Board decided to create an Ocean Research Fleets Working Group (OFWG) composed of national fleet managers. Its mandate was to describe the existing fleets and their management, and to formulate recommendations towards enhanced use and improved management at the European level.

The first part covers an extensive survey of the European research fleets and large exchangeable equipment, coherent with past European studies and facilitating comparison with US fleet. The European research fleets are composed of 46 vessels including 11 of Global class, 15 of Ocean class and 20 of Regional class. The fleets of Global and Ocean class ships are up to date and constitute the essential means for proper access to quality marine data. There is no question of overcapacity in the European fleets.

The main problem with the European research fleets is that of age, especially for the Regional class vessels. If renewal is not secured, the number of Regional class vessels could decline by 60% in the next 10 years.

The OFWG also surveyed large exchangeable equipment deployed on Research Vessels. The European set is clearly state-of-the-art, performing excellently, and is more extensive than elsewhere in the world.

The existing types of management processes have been assessed and the existing partnerships have been also listed and reviewed.

The second part of the OFWG report is dedicated to pragmatic recommendations, from the near, medium and long-term perspectives along with recommendations concerning complementary instruments. The objective is to use more efficiently the existing fleets (through an enhanced cooperation among national authorities, the Marine Board, the European Union and European structures),  to widen the access for scientists to research fleets (with special attention towards the new Member States) and to contribute to a long term strategy.

The report is a unique opportunity to present an up-to-date status of European research fleets. It represents a valuable contribution for national authorities which remain the main funding bodies of new research vessels: endorsing the OFWG recommendations will help them to launch their own national marine infrastructure strategy along with their fleet’s optimisation in accordance with European context.

This publication is also a timely and relevant input to a dynamic marine European research framework shaped by ESFRI and the forthcoming Maritime Policy: it represents an important achievement towards the integration of European research fleets.

For further information and/or to receive a paper copy, please contact:

Aurélien Carbonnière
Marine Board - ESF
European Science Foundation
1, quai Lezay-Marnésia
F-67080 Strasbourg cedex
Tel: +33 (0)388 762 187