The Marine National Facility has been a key element of Australia's national research infrastructure since 1984. It is based at the CSIRO Marine Laboratories in Hobart.

1984 - 2002

1984 - MNF sets sail

In 1984, the Australian Government established the Marine National Facility (MNF) to provide a dedicated blue-water research capability to the Australian marine science community and their international collaborators.

The MNF enabled, for the first time, Australian researchers to conduct research in our vast and largely unexplored marine estate, which occupies 14 million square kilometres of our surrounding oceans and seas.

The MNF was hosted by the CSIRO Division of Oceanography under the direction of an independent Interim Steering Committee established in 1984. The Interim Steering Committee was appointed as the first National Facility Steering Committee in 1985 by the Minister of Science.

The MNF commenced official operation in 1985, with operational and technical support established and staff employed as MNF staff.

In 1998, the MNF Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC) was established as an expert advisory body to the Marine National Facility Steering Committee (MNFSC).

1985 - Launching ORV Franklin

Australia's first Marine National Facility research vessel was ORV (Oceanic Research Vessel) Franklin, a 55 metre purpose-built oceanographic research vessel.

The vessel was built in Cairns from 1983-85 at a cost of AU$12.2 million. The arrival of the vessel coincided with the opening of the new CSIRO Marine Laboratories on the Hobart waterfront in September 1984.

ORV Franklin was commissioned in April 1985 and its first scientific voyage was in June 1985.

As part of the national facility, Franklin operated widely around Australia largely with oceanographers and geoscientists.

2002 - Farewell to Franklin

ORV Franklin had a very narrow and specific capability, and this proved to be limiting as the demands of gathering data from our vast marine estate increased during the 1990s.

An extensive search identified RV Southern Surveyor as a promising successor. The 66 metre vessel had been built in 1971 as a stern trawler for fishing in the North Sea but was acquired from its Norwegian Owners by CSIRO in 1988 and refitted for fisheries research. In the late 1990s an extensive refit greatly expanded the vessels capability as a multi-purpose research vessel, unique and unprecedented in Australia.

In 2003, Southern Surveyor was transferred to the MNF to replace Franklin. For this new role, Southern Surveyor underwent another transformation to become a multidisciplinary research vessel, more suited to meet the growing needs of the Australian marine research community.

The vessel refit included the removal of the fixed gear trawling gantry, which was replaced with a more powerful, moveable stern A-frame. This allowed a wider range of work to be done. Perhaps the most significant renovation, a large hold was cut into her hull in Fremantle for the installation of her state-of-the-art multi-beam echo sounder or ‘swath mapper’.

In 2003, Southern Surveyor officially replaced Franklin as the MNF research vessel.

2003 - 2009

2003 - Southern Surveyor steams ahead

In 2003, Franklin was sold to Sweden's Tiger Marine Systems and Southern Surveyor undertook its first voyage as Australia’s new multi-purpose research vessel.

Southern Surveyor would enable Australian researchers across the biological, oceanographic and geoscience disciplines, with some limited atmospheric research capabilities.

2009 - Southern Surveyor makes for the shore

By 2009, Southern Surveyor was beginning to show its age and its 14 scientific berths were becoming a limiting factor.

In response, the Australian Government launched a $120 million project in May 2009 to design and build a new research vessel to replace Southern Surveyor. This was called the Future Research Vessel (FRV) Project.

Following a rigorous procurement process undertaken by the CSIRO, Teekay Holdings Australia Pty Ltd was awarded the contract in January 2011 to design, build and commission the new vessel.procurement commenced in October 2010 and a contract between CSIRO and the successful contractor, Teekay Holdings Australia Pty Ltd was executed in January 2011. Fabrication work on the new vessel commenced in 2012 in Singapore.

Southern Surveyor completed its final voyage on 17 October 2013 and decommissioning began shortly thereafter. In February 2014, Southern Surveyor was sold to Excel International.

From deploying the tsunami early warning system and the Southern Ocean Flux Moorings, to mapping the seafloor to better understand the ecology and geology of Australia’s marine estate, to discovering the dynamics of Pacific tectonic plates, to better understanding the western rock lobster’s life cycle, plankton, food chains and ocean currents around Australia and our surrounding seas, Southern Surveyor made a powerful contribution to the global marine science community, and had surveyed vast tracts of previously unmapped seafloor.

2010 - Present

2010 - Making waves with Investigator

A national competition was run to 'float-a-name' for the new research vessel with the winner announced in January 2010. RV Investigator was chosen, as it linked the ship to Australia's maritime history - Matthew Flinders first circumnavigated the continent in His Majesty’s Sloop Investigator (1801-1803).

Investigator is a 94 metre purpose-built research vessel, capable of travelling 10,800 nautical miles in a single voyage, carrying up to 40 scientists and support staff - as well as 20 crew - from the equator to the Antarctic ice-edge.

Investigator was completed in 2014 and delivered to its home port of Hobart on 9 September of that year. The vessel was officially commissioned on 12 December 2014, delivering a step-change in capability with the ability to support atmospheric, oceanographic, biological and geoscience research..

According to Craig Johnson, Chair of the MNF Steering Committee (2003-13), Investigator represented a "necessary and substantial step-change in science capability and sophistication, and in voyage capability."

Following commissioning trials in Hobart, Investigator commenced a program of research voyages in early 2015, beginning with the deployment of deep sea moorings in the Southern Ocean to measure carbon cycles and air-sea interactions over time.

ASP Ship Management were appointed ship managers in April 2013.

2015 - Investigator flexes its research capability

The new research vessel was recognised as a landmark infrastructure by the Australian Government in 2016 National Research Infrastructure Roadmap and provides Australian researchers with a dedicated and impressive blue-water research capability.

The increase in vessel capability and voyage schedule complexity results in expansion of the Marine National Facility. Seventy staff are now directly or indirectly involved in maintaining and operating Investigator, and the associated suite of world-class scientific equipment.

Although Investigator operates around Australia and internationally, its crew, scientists and technicians – and their families – will always be glad to see the vessel round the Iron Pot on the homeward journey up the Derwent River.

Investigator arrives in its home port of Hobart, Tasmania.

Blog: 100,000 nautical miles of science

With a ship life of 25+ years, it's only the beginning! Follow RV Investigator on a journey from a shipyard in Singapore to the remote corners of our vast ocean estate and down to the deep ocean abyss.

This is a story of ship meets science.