Royal adventure awaits!

By Peter Mikelbank
April 07, 2017 11:48 AM
Credit: Guillaume Horacajuelo/EPA/Landov

Royal adventure awaits!

Renewing Monaco’s long commitment to ocean exploration, Prince Albert II unveiled plans this week for an ambitious three-year project, continuing the work of Jacques Cousteau and involving an $80 million Calypso-like research vessel to monitor ocean changes.

In a press conference broadcast live on Facebook from Monaco’s Oceanographic Museum — and with a considerable nod to Jacques Cousteau (the museum director for over 30 years) — the prince announced that beginning in August, a research craft manned by marine scientists will sail around the planet gathering data on ocean warming and climate change.

“The decisions we make upon our planet’s future depend upon knowledge,” the royal said, explaining the program — dubbed Monaco Explorations — will expand understanding of the oceans bio-diversity, studying plants and lifeforms. “In renewing the principle of scientific ocean exploration, we will furnish new elements tied to warnings, sensitization and education.”

The Yersin‘s first long anchorage will be in the Atlantic’s Macronesia area, off the West African coast in September before a two-month deployment in the Caribbean.

It will cross through the Panama Canal into the Pacific in December, and the research crew will eventually circumnavigate the planet on a largely tropical heading, gathering scientific data over its three-year mission.

Albert plans to join the vessel as often as he can during the voyage, which will constitute a dozen major passages, including the Coral Sea, Indian Ocean, the Mediterranean and Black Seas before it returns to Monaco in July 2020.

Monaco’s association with ocean exploration dates back to Albert’s great-grandfather — the adventurous explorer Prince Albert I, who dedicated much of his life and fortune establishing ocean studies as a science. Founder of the principality’s Oceanographic Center, Albert I owned four legendary sail-masted research vessels which ventured into Arctic expedition.

The Yersin is an impressive vessel inspired by this tradition.

The 250-ft steel-hulled state-of-the-art ship, loaned by French businessman Francois Fiat, was largely purpose-built for scientific research. A unique example of an Explorer class, it is capable of 50 days of arctic sailing without taking on supplies and has numerous environmental “clean ship” features designed to fulfill her design motto: “Leave an imprint without leaving a trace.”

Constructed at an estimated $80 million by a French firm specialized in commercial and military craft, it was built in the same boatyard in Concarneau, France, where Cousteau’s pioneering Calypso — involved in a family dispute — has gone to rust.

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Albert, a climate change activist, was key in representing ocean protection during the Paris Accord discussions. Educational programs are an essential part of the Monaco Explorations project and will be held at each of the Yersin’s stops with local groups and authorities and while data from the expedition will be shared openly with both the scientific community and public, Albert told reporters.

“The public has the means to be more aware than ever before, but there is still a way to be done so that the greatest number can understand what is happening in terms of pollution, climate change, the disappearance of some species, overfishing, the need to protect ecosystems that are vital to the health of the oceans,” he said.

Suggesting his role was one of continuity and necessity, Albert told newspaper Nice-Matin, “I am neither Prince Albert I nor Commander Cousteau. The first showed us the way, the second pointed out the problem of protecting certain marine environments and species. Unfortunately, this is still valid. The widespread awareness of the dangers facing the oceans must continue.”

The expedition will be funded by the Principality, the Prince Albert Foundation and private donations.