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Construction Begins On New Research Vessel

Next summer, a group of marine researchers and local politicians who gathered at a Tarpon Springs shipyard for a ceremonial keel laying plan to return for the dedication of a new research ship.

With the touching of a blow torch to the keel Wednesday morning, construction formally began on the 78-foot vessel at Duckworth Steel Boats.

The currently unnamed craft will replace the R/V Bellows, a 46-year-old research ship operated by the Florida Institute of Oceanography.

The Institute, which is based at the College of Marine Science at USF St. Petersburg, will use the vessel to study situations like the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill or red tide outbreaks.

FIO Director, Dr. Bill Hogarth, said the new ship will be used for coastal research, as well as to train the next generations of marine scientists.

"It's just really the one that you can take a lot of students out for the day, and you can do a lot of training. We want to be able to teach classes, it's easier from this vessel," Hogarth said.

"This is a unique opportunity in the state of Florida -- the rest of the country doesn't have a ship they can take and incorporate into their coursework at their universities and take their students out and get them practical hands-on opportunities," said Dr. Wade Jeffrey.

Jeffrey had studied on the R/V Bellows as a student at USF, and has taken students from his biology classes at the University of West Florida out on research missions as well.

Credit Mark Schreiner / WUSF 89.7 News
WUSF 89.7 News
The new vessel will replace the 46-year-old RV Bellows, which is pictured here.

Hogarth, who will retire later this summer, added that Duckworth was the best choice to build the ship for multiple reasons.

"First of all, it keeps the jobs and money in the Florida economy. Number two, I don't care where you go, you won't find a better boat builder than Duckworth," he said. "It's close to us, we can come up if they have a question, have a problem, it cuts down on the cost of follow-up, making sure that we're involved in the construction."

"If you look at it from the economic standpoint, $6 million will be spent in Tarpon Springs, that's going to employ a lot of people, which is very vital to our local economy," Tarpon Springs Mayor Chris Alahouzos said. "But also, remember Tarpon Springs is a working port, so (a research vessel) helps us a lot -- we have shrimpers, we have fishermen here, we have sponge divers, all these will benefit from this particular project."

Florida Governor Rick Scott vetoed FIO's initial request for $6 million for the boat in 2015, but encouraged the Institute and its almost 30 members, including more than a dozen universities, to have a greater financial stake in the process.

Hogarth said, through belt tightening for the next two years, the FIO and its members came up with $3 million to build and equip the boat. The state will match that amount.

The city of St. Petersburg is contributing $250,000 in funds it received in the BP Oil spill settlement.

Hogarth said the new ship should be ready to be launched in 12 to 14 months.

Mark Schreiner is the assistant news director and intern coordinator for WUSF News.
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