Cape Fear Community College buying deep-water research vessel

rstradling@newsobserver.comMarch 8, 2013 

The R/V Cape Hatteras turns before docking Jan. 30 at the Duke University Marine Lab dock at Beaufort, ending its final voyage for the Duke/University of North Carolina Oceanographic Consortium. Cape Fear Community College bought the vessel.

JOHN C. NELSON

The R/V Cape Hatteras, a deep-water marine research ship based at the Duke University Marine Laboratory for all of its 31 years, will soon have a new owner. But it isn’t leaving the state.

Cape Fear Community College in Wilmington will buy the ship for its marine technology program, replacing a smaller and older ship that the college has used since 1982.

The community college will pay $900,000 for the 135-foot long research ship. The money will come from a mix of state funds, tuition and private donations through the college’s foundation.

“The R/V Cape Hatteras is an ideal ship for our marine technology program,” said college president Ted Spring. “It’s an opportunity we simply couldn’t pass up.”

About 135 students are enrolled in the two-year program, which prepares students for work in fields such as shipping, fisheries science, offshore energy exploration and coastal tourism. By the time they graduate, students have spent 32 days at sea, said program chairman Jason Rogers.

“It’s that living and working at sea which industry values more than anything else,” Rogers said. “It’s an inherently dangerous environment, living and working on the water. So by having a platform that can take students to sea and train them on how to work safely, and expose them to all of the scientific equipment, that’s how they get jobs.”

The R/V Cape Hatteras is owned by the National Science Foundation. Since its launch in 1981, the ship has been based in Beaufort and operated by a consortium made up of Duke University, UNC-Chapel Hill, N.C. State University, East Carolina University and UNC-Wilmington. Scientists used the ship to do ocean research from the Gulf of Maine to the Caribbean; it’s highest profile work was in tracking the movement of oil after the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

The National Science Foundation chose to retire the ship as a cost-saving measure, and the consortium officially dissolved Friday, said its director, Richard Barber. He said marine scientists in the state hope to form a new organization to concentrate on research along the North Carolina coast.

Barber said scientists who have worked on the Cape Hatteras are happy the ship will continue to be used as a teaching tool and that it will remain in the state.

“We are delighted that the Cape Hatteras is staying as a neighbor,” he said. “A lot of people in the state are very committed to the ship, and it’s just great that we’ll have it stay here.”

Worldwide interest

John Nelson of Nelson Yacht Sales of Beaufort received inquiries from around the world after the Cape Hatteras was put on the market around the first of the year, for $1.25 million. The science foundation and the consortium agreed to the college’s lower offer because of some needed upgrades to the ship that the college will undertake this year.

Proceeds from the sale will go to the Duke marine lab, which gave up another research ship when the Cape Hatteras was purchased, though the science foundation has final approval over how the money is spent.

After Duke and Cape Fear officials close on the deal Tuesday, the Cape Hatteras will move from the Duke lab in Beaufort to the community college’s dock on the Cape Fear River in downtown Wilmington. There will be some pomp and ceremony when the ship arrives on Thursday, said Rogers, the marine technology program director.

“It will be a big day when the ropes are attached to our dock,” he said.

Stradling: 919-829-4739

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