In a victory for the Ocean State, U.S. Senator Jack Reed today announced that effective April 12, 2016, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) fisheries research vessel Henry B. Bigelow will be permanently homeported in Newport, Rhode Island.
The 209-foot, $54 million ship supports NOAA’s mission to protect, restore, and manage the use of living marine, coastal, and ocean resources through ecosystem-based management. Its primary objective is to study and monitor Northeast Marine Fisheries throughout New England. The state-of-the-art ship has high-tech sonar and the capability to drop its nets and trawl at depths of 1,000 fathoms — 6,000 feet. It also observes weather, sea state, and other environmental conditions, conducts habitat assessments, and surveys marine mammal and marine bird populations.
“Rhode Island is a critical hub for oceanographic research and permanently homeporting this vessel in Newport is a smart, cost-effective move that is in the best interests of taxpayers and NOAA researchers,” said Senator Reed, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, who has worked over the years to secure federal funding to upgrade the waterfront area at Naval Station Newport. “I commend the U.S. Department of Commerce and NOAA for reaching this decision, which I have long advocated, and I will continue working to strengthen collaboration between the federal government and ocean researchers here in Rhode Island.”
Senator Reed has been lobbying for several years to permanently homeport the ship in Rhode Island to save taxpayers money. At a 2014 Appropriations hearing with Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, Reed noted that homeporting the ship in Rhode Island could help save the government money.
The Bigelow provides critical data used in stock assessment and to inform fisheries management decisions. Permanently berthing the vessel in Newport will offer NOAA the opportunity to cooperate with federal partners in the Northeast, including the U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard.
“We’re glad to have a solid plan for the future that reinforces NOAA’s commitment in New England and builds on our strong partnership with the Navy and the Coast Guard,” said NOAA Vice Admiral Michael S. Devany, Deputy Under Secretary for Operations. “The permanent assignment of NOAA ship Henry B. Bigelow to Newport anchors NOAA’s presence in the region and supports our vital science missions in the Northeast.”
Officials at NOAA note the change is based on a formal Analysis of Alternatives (AOA) for the NOAA ships Henry B. Bigelow and Okeanos Explorer, a deep sea exploration ship which is homeported at Quonset Point at the Port of Davisville. The decision was made after the AOA assessed the compatibility of various homeport options with the operational requirements of both vessels. While NOAA is not currently changing the homeport of the Okeanos Explorer, the final recommendation in the AOA is to co-locate the two NOAA ships at NAVSTA Newport and build a new T-pier with extension and related shoreside facilities, pending congressional appropriations and all required studies and assessments.
The waterfront at Naval Station Newport is an integral part of operations for NOAA and U.S. Coast Guard vessels. Currently, Newport is home to three Coast Guard buoy tenders, CGC Juniper, CGC Willow, and CGC Ida Lewis, as well as the Patrol Boat CGC Tiger Shark. It regularly hosts visiting vessels and supports the important work of the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC).
While the Bigelow’s primary goal is to use its acoustic equipment to get an accurate count of fish populations in New England, it has also been used for other important missions. In 2010, in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, NOAA deployed the ship to the Gulf of Mexico to help determine if any oil continued to leak from the plugged well, 5,000 feet below the surface, and monitor the undersea environment for any changes.
The Bigelow was built by VT Halter Marine Inc. in Mississippi and launched in 2005.