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1984 - 2002

1984 - MNF sets sail

In 1984, the Australian Government established the Marine National Facility (MNF) to provide a dedicated blue-water research capability to the Australian marine science community and their international collaborators. The MNF enabled, for the first time, Australian researchers to conduct research in our vast and largely unexplored marine estate, which occupies 14 million square kilometres of our surrounding oceans and seas.

The MNF was hosted by the CSIRO Division of Oceanography under the direction of an independent Interim Steering Committee established in 1984. The Interim Steering Committee was appointed as the first National Facility Steering Committee in 1985 by the Minister of Science.

The MNF commenced official operation in 1985, with operational and technical support established and staff employed as MNF staff.

In 1998, the MNF Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC) was established as an expert advisory body to the Marine National Facility Steering Committee (MNFSC)

1985 - Launching ORV Franklin
ORV Franklin

Australia's first Marine National Facility research vessel was oceanic research vessel (ORV) Franklin, a 55-metre purpose-built ocean research vessel.

The vessel was built in Cairns from 1983-85 at a cost of AU$12.2 million. The arrival of the vessel coincided with the opening of the new CSIRO Marine Laboratories on the Hobart waterfront in September 1984.

ORV Franklin was commissioned in April 1985 and its first scientific voyage was in June 1985.

As part of the national facility, Franklin operated widely around Australia largely with oceanographers and geoscientists.

2002 - Farewell to ORV Franklin

ORV Franklin had a very narrow and specific capability, and this proved to be limiting as the demands of gathering data from our vast marine estate increased during the 1990s.

An extensive search identified research vessel (RV) Southern Surveyor as a promising successor. The 66-metre vessel had been built in 1971 as a stern trawler for fishing in the North Sea. In 1988, it was acquired from its Norwegian Owners by CSIRO and refitted for fisheries research. In the late 1990s, an extensive refit greatly expanded the vessels capability as a multi-purpose research vessel, unique and unprecedented in Australia.

In 2003, RV Southern Surveyor was transferred to the MNF to replace ORV Franklin. For this new role, RV Southern Surveyor underwent another transformation to become a multidisciplinary research vessel, more suited to meet the growing needs of the Australian marine research community.

The vessel refit included the removal of the fixed gear trawling gantry, which was replaced with a more powerful, moveable stern A-frame. This allowed a wider range of work to be done. Perhaps the most significant renovation, a large hold was cut into her hull in Fremantle for the installation of her state-of-the-art multi-beam echo sounder or ‘swath mapper’.

In 2003, RV Southern Surveyor officially replaced ORV Franklin as the MNF research vessel.

2003 - 2009

2003 - RV Southern Surveyor steams ahead

In 2003, ORV Franklin was sold to Sweden's Tiger Marine Systems and RV Southern Surveyor undertook its first voyage as Australia’s new multi-purpose research vessel.

RV Southern Surveyor would enable Australian researchers across the biological, oceanographic and geoscience disciplines, with some limited atmospheric research capabilities.

2009 - RV Southern Surveyor makes for the shore

By 2009, RV Southern Surveyor was beginning to show its age and its 14 scientific berths were becoming a limiting factor.

In response, the Australian Government launched an AU$120 million project in May 2009 to design and build a new research vessel to replace RV Southern Surveyor.

This was called the Future Research Vessel (FRV) Project.

Following a rigorous procurement process undertaken by the CSIRO, Teekay Holdings Australia Pty Ltd was awarded the contract in January 2011 to design, build and commission the new vessel. Procurement commenced in October 2010 and a contract between CSIRO and the successful contractor, Teekay Holdings Australia Pty Ltd was executed in January 2011. Fabrication work on the new vessel commenced in 2012 in Singapore.

RV Southern Surveyor completed its final voyage on 17 October 2013 and decommissioning began shortly thereafter. In February 2014, the vessel was sold to Excel International.

RV Southern Surveyor made a powerful contribution to the global marine science community and surveyed vast tracts of previously unmapped seafloor. It's achievements included deploying the tsunami early warning system and the Southern Ocean Flux Moorings, to mapping the seafloor to better understand the ecology and geology of Australia’s marine estate, to discovering the dynamics of Pacific tectonic plates, to better understanding the western rock lobster’s life cycle, plankton, food chains and ocean currents around Australia and our surrounding seas.

2010 - Present

2010 - A new vessel is named

A national competition was run to 'float-a-name' for the new research vessel with the winner announced in January 2010. RV Investigator was chosen, as it linked the ship to Australia's maritime history - Matthew Flinders first circumnavigated the continent in His Majesty’s Sloop Investigator (1801-1803).

RV Investigator is a 94-metre purpose-built research vessel, capable of travelling 10,800 nautical miles in a single voyage, carrying up to 40 scientists and support staff - as well as 20 crew - from the equator to the Antarctic ice-edge.

The vessel was completed in 2014 and delivered to its home port of Hobart on 9 September of that year. The vessel was officially commissioned on 12 December 2014, delivering a step-change in capability with the ability to support atmospheric, oceanographic, biological and geoscience research..

According to Craig Johnson, Chair of the MNF Steering Committee (2003-13), RV Investigator represented a "necessary and substantial step-change in science capability and sophistication, and in voyage capability."

Following commissioning trials in Hobart, the new vessel commenced a program of research voyages in early 2015, beginning with the deployment of deep sea moorings in the Southern Ocean to measure carbon cycles and air-sea interactions over time.

ASP Ship Management were appointed as inaugural ship managers in April 2013.

Investigator offers a worldclass platform for education and training. ©  CSIRO, Chris McKay

2015 - RV Investigator flexes its research capabilities

RV Investigator was recognised as a landmark infrastructure by the Australian Government in 2016 National Research Infrastructure Roadmap and provides Australian researchers with a dedicated and impressive blue-water research capability.

The increase in vessel capability and voyage schedule complexity results in expansion of the Marine National Facility. Seventy staff are now directly or indirectly involved in maintaining and operating RV Investigator, and the associated suite of world-class scientific equipment.

Although RV Investigator operates around Australia and internationally, its crew, scientists and technicians – and their families – will always be glad to see the vessel round the Iron Pot on the homeward journey up the Derwent River.

VIDEO: Time-lapse of the construction of RV Investigator

Construction of RV Investigator commenced in 2012 at the Sembawang Shipyards in Singapore. Follow the construction of the vessel from flat sheets of steel to launch and its delivery voyage to Australia in this time-lapse video. 

Time lapse video complication of the RV Investigator construction.

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