It is well known the French do things differently and often in beautiful ships. I was very taken with this view of the Marion Dufresne in dry dock at the Damen yard, Dunkerque, earlier this year under-going a four month refit to give her a 20 year life extension.
She has at least two roles, as a very sophisticated research ship, but also a supply and passenger vessel to the remote French territories in the Southern Ocean. For her research role, her electronic and scientific equipment range and potential has been radically upgraded. However, for her purpose as a vital lifeline her supply gear has been uprated and her accommodation too. She takes 114 passengers, mainly, but not only research personnel, and has 46 crew. She is diesel-electric with a GECAlsthom/Wartsila installation.
The vessel is owned by French administration “Les Terres Australes et Antarctiques Françaises” (TAAF) and managed by CMA CGM. She supplies French southern islands four months a year and carries out oceanographic research 217 days a year under the ‘Institut Polaire Paul-Emile Victor’ (IPEV). She is registered in Le Havre, but her base is Réunion in the southern Indian Ocean, from where she will resume logistic and scientific duties in the French Southern and Antarctic Lands, including the Crozet and Kerguelen Islands and the smaller islands of Amsterdam and St-Paul, delivering supplies, fuel, and personnel to permanently manned bases there. (Alfred Faure (Port Alfred), Portaux- Français, and Martin-de-Viviès.
Marion Dufresne is known for excellent sea-kindliness and she looks the part when seen in dry-dock, which shows off her wonderful lines. Built by Ateliers & Chantiers Du Havre, Normandy, in ’95 at 9,403gt, the multi-purpose vessel has all the gear required to serve islands and bases with no harbours and few airstrips. She has several boats for carrying supplies ashore, the largest being the container barge Gros Ventre (“Fat Belly”). Her two largest 25 ton cranes, when coupled, can lift 45 tons, and she carries a helicopter which can transport containers and fuel to remote areas.
In addition to scientists, researchers, technicians and construction workers she has increasingly been carrying tourists, in limited numbers, for 28 day cruise/ trips extending to 9,000 km (5,590 mi) with guided tours on offer off Crozet, Kerguelen, and Amsterdam Islands.
It is an occupational hazard in such waters to ‘feel the ground’ and in November ‘12, Marion Dufresne ran aground at Crozet Islands on her third visit of the year. She received a 25m gash, but the crew controlled the flooding and the 110 passengers were evacuated by the helicopter. Repairs were finally carried out at Elgin Brown & Hamer, Durban.