The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has awarded a $624.6 million contract to Thoma-Sea Marine Constructors to design and build two state-of-the-art research vessels. The contract includes an option to purchase two additional ships.

The two ships will be built in Houma, Louisiana, and are expected to be delivered in 2027 and 2028.

The new ships will focus on ocean mapping and nautical charting to help mariners navigate U.S. ports safely. The vessels will also have capabilities to assess and manage marine resources and collect data for oceanographic research and modelling.

The ships will be capable of coordinating, acquiring, and processing large data sets, deploying crewed survey work boats, scientific equipment, and uncrewed systems to enhance their work. They will be used for mapping the seafloor and characterizing marine habitats.

The contract award follows a request for proposals that was open from June to October 2022.

The design and construction of new ships is partially funded by the Inflation Reduction Act, which invests $3.3 billion to help communities prepare for weather and climate events, improve weather and climate data and services, and strengthen NOAA’s fleet of research airplanes and ships.

NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operations (OMAO) is responsible for operating, managing and maintaining NOAA’s fleet, comprising the largest fleet of federal research ships in the US, ranging from large oceanographic vessels to smaller ships for charting shallow bays and inlets.

The fleet supports fisheries surveys, nautical charting, and ocean and climate studies, and is operated by NOAA Corps officers and civilian mariners.

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