The history of the Belgica research vessel

1st generation (1896 – 1916)

RV Belgica

In 1896, Adrien de Gerlache bought the Norwegian whaling ship Patria for his Antarctic expedition. The Patria was converted to a research ship in Sandefjord (Norway) and renamed Belgica. The original Belgica was a 36 m long barque, propelled by a 35 horsepower steam engine. In 1902, the Belgica was sold to Philippe, Duke of Orléans and used on expeditions to the Arctic, including the east coast of Greenland, Svalbard, and Franz Josef Land. In 1907 – 1909, the Belgica was again used in an expedition to the Arctic, headed by Philippe and captained by de Gerlache. It was planned to map Arctic Russia, but these plans were abandoned when the Belgica again became trapped in sea ice. In 1916, she was sold and converted to a passenger and cargo ship, serving Spitsbergen from the Norwegian mainland under the name Isfjord. In 1940, the ship sank when the Franco-British Expeditionary Force evacuated Harstad in northern Norway.

Credit: Belgian Navy.

2nd generation (1984 – 2021)

RV A962 Belgica

In 1984, a new era had begun for Belgian marine research when Queen Fabiola baptised the RV A962 Belgica on October 11th. From then onwards, Zeebrugge was home to Belgium’s first oceanic research vessel. The vessel had a range of 5000 nautical miles with an autonomy of 20 days, providing up to 200 sailing days per year. For 37 years, the RV A962 Belgica monitored the quality of the North Sea and was a sailing laboratory for fundamental research by Belgian universities and scientific institutes. The RV A962 Belgica also performed international campaigns along the coast of, for instance, Ireland and Morocco. In 2021, after more than a million kilometers travelled and more than 1000 scientific campaigns, the ship was given a second life under the Ukrainian flag. It was renamed RV Borys Aleksandrov in October 2021, and from then onwards, would perform scientific research in the Black Sea.

3th generation (2021 – …)

RV Belgica

Since 2021, the new state-of-the-art RV Belgica is operational, enabling Belgian universities and scientific institutes to play a key role in European marine research in the coming decades. This multidisciplinary vessel is equipped with the latest scientific technologies, and hosts autonomous underwater vehicles. The ship is built to the highest standards of energy consumption, emissions, and noise production. The ship hosts 13 labs with a total space of more than 400 m2. With the new RV Belgica, scientists can perform research down to 5 km water depth, and explore regions between 28° and 80° north. The vessel is ice-strengthened and can perform summer operations in Arctic areas with a 30-day autonomy, reviving Belgian Arctic research expeditions …

Credit: Freire Shipyard.