According to the paper, the current European research vessel fleet is highly capable, and able to provide excellent support to European marine science and wider scientific research.
However, with a typical life expectancy of a research vessel of 30 years, the fleet is ageing and requires more investment to continue to be as efficient and capable as the scientific community expects and requires.
In fact, the capabilities of the fleet have increased considerably since 2007, and vessels have kept up with fast-paced technological developments. The demand for complex and highly capable vessels will continue, and research vessel designs and the fleet as a whole will need to keep up, in order to remain fit-for-purpose and continue to be a key player worldwide.
Currently, there is huge diversity in vessel types and designs in terms of capabilities and equipment, management structures and processes, and training possibilities.
While it would not be possible or appropriate to highlight any one approach as the only one to use, a growing trend in collaboration through community groups, agreements, legal entities and funded projects now enables more strategic thinking in the development of these vital infrastructures
However, some issues still remain in enabling equal access to research vessel time for all researchers across Europe regardless of country, and regardless of whether or not that country owns a suitable research vessel for their scientific needs.
The report also provides suggestions, in order to help improve the European research vessel improve and evolve. These are:
- Information and data on the capabilities and equipment of the European research vessel fleet should be kept up to date and continue to be made available through the EurOcean Research Infrastructure Database1 (EurOcean_RID, see Box 2.1). This data should be periodically reviewed by the infrastructure owners with support from the European Research Vessel Operators (ERVO) group (see Box 1.1) in order to remain able to support science needs, and to keep users, decision makers and funding agencies informed about status and trends;
- For the European research vessel fleet to remain capable and fit-for-purpose, both the fleet and its scientific equipment and instruments should be renewed and developed as a matter of urgency. Given the time-frames involved, this will require ongoing strategic planning through communication with all relevant stakeholders;
- The research vessel community should continue on its path towards greater collaboration in order to aim for equal access to research vessel time based on excellent science not (constrained by) the country of origin of the scientist, for more effective use of resources, for appropriate training for all parties, and for strategic planning of the research;
- Funding agencies should engage in discussions with the research vessel and marine science communities as well as other relevant stakeholders to identify key funding needs. This could for example be achieved through formal invitation of relevant agencies to future International Research Ship Operators (IRSO) and ERVO meetings. These needs will cover fleet renewal and development, training, transnational access for ship-time, and joint research programmes;
- The research vessel operators community should continue to look forward to the emerging science and technological developments (e.g. towards real-time data delivery, new autonomous systems, new science frontiers) and work together with relevant parties to ensure that the fleet is ready to support these.
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