NOAA 2004-R835
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Modernized ship to survey Alaskan waters for update of nautical charts

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration welcomed a previously inactive ship back into the NOAA fleet today during a reactivation ceremony at the U.S. Coast Guard Integrated Support Command base in Ketchikan, Alaska. NOAA ship Fairweather, which has been completely refurbished with the latest technology, will conduct hydrographic surveys in Alaskan coastal waters. NOAA is an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

“After 18 months of refurbishment, Fairweather is now one of the most technologically advanced survey vessels in the world, and represents another step forward in the modernization of the NOAA fleet,” said retired U.S. Navy retired Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher Jr., Ph.D., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator.

Lautenbacher said that this $18.3 million ship investment demonstrates NOAA’s commitment to reducing the backlog of outdated surveys in the vast expanse of Alaskan waters as part of its mission to ensure safe navigation and commerce.

Fairweather has been equipped with the latest multibeam echo sounder technology, and state-of-the-art side scan sonar will be added next year. The ship will be able to map 100 percent of the ocean bottom, determine bottom characteristics and identify areas of interest to navigators, biologists and geologists.

The vessel can carry four survey launches, greatly increasing its efficiency in survey area coverage. Pairing Fairweather with its sister ship, Rainier, will enable NOAA to cover a far greater area quickly and efficiently, providing data for the update of nautical charts, making Alaska’s waters safer for expanding commerce and navigation.

Fairweather will have other missions in addition to the work to reduce Alaska’s 9700 square nautical miles of critical survey area backlog. It is capable of conducting essential fish habitat surveys that are required to make science-based decisions about uses of fisheries resources

The ship will be home ported at the Old Tesoro fuel pier south of downtown Ketchikan. Its crew includes one Ketchikan and three other Alaska residents. Recruitment is continuing in Ketchikan and throughout Alaska.

Alaska’s coastal waters are increasingly transited by large cruise liners, cargo ships and oil tankers, yet many of the seafloor surveys of areas outside primary shipping lanes were done decades ago using technology that did not provide full bottom coverage. Changes due to receding glaciers, storms, shipwrecks and other hazards also can make more recent surveys obsolete.

Fairweather begins operations on Aug. 23 with a hydrographic survey of Decision Passage in southeast Alaska at the request of the southeast marine pilots. This area is a meeting point on a blind 90 degree turn and open to the Pacific Ocean. The survey is intended to give the pilots a better idea of how much maneuvering room they have while avoiding other large vessels, such as 2,000-passenger cruise ships, and the rocks.

Fairweather, named after Mt. Fairweather in Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park, was launched in 1967. The ship spent every almost summer surveying in Alaska waters from Ketchikan in southeast Alaska to Shelikof Strait along the southern Alaska peninsula. Because of budget cutbacks, Fairweather was deactivated in 1988. It was briefly reactivated in 1989 to conduct damage assessments in Prince William Sound after the disastrous Exxon Valdez oil spill. For 15 years the ship was docked at NOAA’s Marine Operations Center-Pacific in Seattle, Wash.

The NOAA fleet of research and survey ships and aircraft is operated, managed, and maintained by NOAA Marine and Aviation Operations. NMAO includes commissioned officers of the NOAA Corps and civilians. The NOAA Corps is the nation’s seventh uniformed service, and, as part of NOAA, is under the U.S. Department of Commerce. The Corps is composed of officers - all scientists or engineers - who provide NOAA with an important blend of operational, management and technical skills that support the agency’s environmental programs at sea, in the air, and ashore. For more information, please see:

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