The vessel will be delivered to the government-run Belgian Federal Science Policy Office (BELSPO) and managed jointly by the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (RBINS) and the Belgian Ministry of Defence.

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The newbuild will be ice-strengthened to comply with the IMO Polar Code, being able to conduct research and survey works in the North Sea and its surrounding sea areas. According to BELSPO, the new vessel will navigate a 'study area' from the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard to the mid-Atlantic ridge and the Mediterranean.

The ship will carry up to 28 scientists and 12 crewmen, spread across 14 single and 13 double cabins. It will also include about 400m² of onboard laboratory space and feature room for up to seven ISO 20ft containers.

Rolls-Royce will supply its main propulsion system, including side thrusters, steering gear and a DP2-rated system. The vessel will be able to work 30 days autonomously and BELSPO expects it to spend approximately 300 days a year at sea. Its predicted service speed will be about 11 knots, increasing to more than 13 knots max.

In addition, the deck equipment will include three cranes, various winches, an A-frame and a 7m workboat. The completed vessel will be able to use several scientific instruments to water depths of 5,000m.

What is more, its planned acoustic underwater gear will include bathymetric multi-beam echosounders for both shallow and deep waters, an omnidirectional fish sonar and a parametric sub-bottom profiler.

The design is expected to be finalised by the end of February 2019, followed by keel-laying in March or April. Freire aspires to launch the vessel in February 2020, with handover to BELSPO planned in October 2020.