RRS Sir David Attenborough keel-laying ceremony

Universities and Science Minister talks about the future pioneering research that RRS Sir David Attenborough will undertake.

Jo  Johnson MP

Good morning everyone.

It’s great to see so many of you here. I’m told that all together there are about a thousand of us in this hall. This number seems fitting. Centuries ago, it was Helen of Troy whose face launched a thousand ships. Today, we have a thousand faces here to witness the beginnings of the ship which itself launched a thousand memes!

This vessel is of course named after a man who is, to many, the world’s greatest naturalist. A national treasure and a global icon. A man whose insatiable curiosity, boundless enthusiasm and countless adventures have inspired generations.

The inimitable Sir David Attenborough.

It may be thoroughly unusual to name a vessel after a person who is alive and well, but I can’t think of anyone more deserving of this honour.

The RRS Sir David Attenborough and her crew will live up to that name. This new polar research ship, commissioned by Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), built by Cammell Laird and operated by British Antarctic Survey (BAS) will inspire us – young and old – with its pioneering research missions in the cold of the Antarctic and the Arctic.

Scientists on board will make discoveries that change our understanding of our world.

This is important research. The polar regions are the areas where we first see the impact of climate change. Changes in the arctic cascade through the global system and have wide-ranging effects on weather, ecosystems, and even commerce in temperate regions like our own.

And yet the Southern Ocean, which surrounds Antarctica, has the sparsest data coverage of any ocean, largely due to its remote geography and inhospitable conditions.

That’s why the work carried out on the RRS Sir David Attenborough is so crucial. When it’s fully operational, this ship will enable pioneering research in the Arctic and Antarctic for the next 25 years or more.

These findings will help policy makers to take on some of the world’s greatest challenges, such as climate change, rising sea levels and declining marine biodiversity. Like her namesake, this ship will teach us about life on earth.

And unlike existing vessels, the RRS Sir David Attenborough will be a cutting-edge, flexible research platform well into the future. She will be built to deploy state-of-the-art robotic instruments and technologies. Her laboratories will be containerised, meaning they can be replaced or upgraded with new facilities and new tech as time goes by. And she will be able to be at sea longer than other vessels, making more adventurous expeditions possible.

I recognise, of course, that talking about the ship’s capabilities and future modifications is, for now, a little premature.

Today’s keel laying marks the beginning of this journey. It’s an integral moment in the life of any vessel and one which is said to bring luck to the construction and all subsequent voyages.

Well a little luck never goes amiss. But there’s a lot to be said for quality and skill.

And this project has those in abundance.

Cammell Laird won the contract against stiff international competition, demonstrating the excellence which we have come to expect both from British industry and this company in particular.

By the time the RRS Sir David Attenborough reaches sea trials in 2018, Cammell Laird will be 190 years old. All those years of experience and quality output have made this company’s name international, and I know that the current generation of employees will only boost that reputation through this project.

Many of you here today will be working on this over the next few years, and I want to thank each of you for your incredible hard work and dedication.

The 400 people who build the Sir David Attenborough are putting together the next generation of research vessel. They will be aided in their work by some 60 apprentices, and manufacturing demands will support 200 jobs nationally and another 200 jobs in the local supply chain, giving a boost to local people and the local economy in Merseyside.

On top of this, Camell Laird has invested over £1.2 million in new British equipment for the shipyard, and placed orders worth tens of millions of pounds with UK companies such as Rolls-Royce, who are manufacturing the engines.

Clearly this is a big-budget project with many partners. Perhaps the biggest is the British public - with £200 million of government investment for this new polar research ship and supporting infrastructure projects – our largest investment in polar science since the 1980s.

This project is a great example of what this government means by an economy that works for all. Every part of the country has its own strengths, and the skills that exist here in Birkenhead are both unique and crucial. This is a project of national importance with nationwide investment, and it’s built on your knowledge and ability. It could not be built anywhere else.

We are committed to building on these strengths so that each area can flourish, and the RRS David Attenborough shows how private and public sectors working together can bring local, national and international benefits.

Alongside those initial funds we are investing a further £1 million into the Polar Explorer Programme which will capitalise on the huge public interest in the naming of the RRS Sir David Attenborough, aiming to raise the scientific awareness and literacy of the general public by engaging young people with the ship and the science the ship will support.

And of course, we are enlisting the help of a certain Mr Boatface too.

With Boaty and the RRS Sir David Attenborough as integral resources, the Polar Explorer Programme will use videos and images and updates from missions to achieve a real change in the aspirations and attainment of many young people in STEM subjects.

We want to inspire children to be confident in their skills, curious about their world and bold in their ambitions.

But we also want to inspire people of all ages around the world to recognise the wonder and importance of our frozen planet.

If we can achieve these goals then we will be able to say that the RRS Sir David Attenborough is truly taking forward the legacy of her namesake.

Published 17 October 2016