Research Vessel Belgica

Go to the dedicated website of the new RV Belgica.

The new research vessel RV Belgica (photo: RBINS)
RV Belgica

The Federal Science Policy Office is the proud owner of the Belgian oceanographic research vessel: RV Belgica. The ship available for Belgian scientists who wish to carry out marine scientific research. The RBINS' OD Nature is responsible for the ship's budget, scientific equipment and the planning of scientific campaigns. The Belgian Navy provides the crew, operational support and a mooring in the home port of Zeebrugge.

The RV Belgica is at sea for up to two hundred days a year and different teams work on it day and night. From Monday to Friday the ship sets off from Zeebrugge and travels to remote corners of the Belgian section of the North Sea. It also goes further afield, on longer campaigns it sails as far as Moroccan, Portuguese, Spanish, French, British and Irish waters. On an average research trip the crew leave on Monday morning and return on Friday evening. Different research teams are on board together and replace one another, so that they can work nonstop.

RV Belgica 1984
The Birth of RV Belgica

In 1976, when the Management Unit of the North Sea Mathematical Model (MUMM is now part of OD Nature) was established under the Ministry of Public Health and Environment, its most important mission was to develop computer simulations of marine processes. A new oceanographic research programme, “Sustainable Management of the North Sea”, was also launched to enable various scientific teams to carry out fundamental oceanographic research, but the ships used in Belgium were not suitable for these missions. There was a real need for a Belgian oceanographic ship. In November 1979 the government approved a 50.9m long multifunctional ship (suitable for studying chemistry, physics, biochemistry, geology and fishing). Plans were drafted by the Cockerill Yards shipyard, but after they went bankrupt the Boelwerf van Temse shipyard continued the job. Construction began in 1982. The Navy was responsible for the nautical aspects, the MUMM for the oceanographic equipment. In 1984 work on RV Belgica was finally completed.

The ship took to the sea for a trial period to test its speed and fuel consumption and to take the first samples. At that time reports emerged of a shipwreck involving a dangerous cargo: RV Belgica changed course immediately and set sail for the Mont-Louis, which had gone down 18 km off Ostend. The French cargo ship was transporting radioactive material and there was a risk that the hexafluoride and fuel would cause chemical pollution. RV Belgica joined the intervention vessels and concentrated on monitoring the impact of the accident on the marine environment. Students and researchers disembarked to make room for experts who were responsible for the radiobiological monitoring of the wreck. With the aid of the North Sea mathematical model, MUMM created graphics illustrating the spread of pollution.

Having detected all possible pollution in the course of 41 days, RV Belgica was officially christened by Queen Fabiola (the ship's sponsor) in the port of Ostend.

In March 1987 the RV Belgica set sail for a disaster area for the second time: the Herald of Free Enterprise. Here too the RV Belgica remained in the vicinity for a month to take samples, carry out analyses and monitor the pollution.


The RV Belgica monitors the quality of the North Sea by constantly collecting all kinds of data about the biological, chemical, physical, geological and hydrodynamic processes which occur. The ship is a 50.9 metre long floating laboratory used by the researchers from Belgian universities and scientific institutes to increase our knowledge of the seas. Scientists take samples of water, soil and live organisms. They test new fishing techniques, investigate the influence of sand extraction on the sea bed and study the effect of wind farms on sea life. Due to its versatility, this Belgian oceanographic ship is used not only by Belgian teams of marine scientists but foreign teams with whom we collaborate in the context of European framework programmes. RV Belgica’s international campaigns have already led to the discovery of cold water coral hills in south-western Ireland and mud volcanos off the coast of Morocco. The research that is carried out on the RV Belgica is therefore important for the management of the North Sea, equally vital for fundamental research in neighbouring seas and oceans. RV Belgica web pages

RV Belgica aft deck
Welcome aboard!

Alongside the oceanographic equipment and scientific labs, RV Belgica has its own kitchen, two dining and meeting rooms, and 14 cabins with room for 16 scientists and 15 crew members.

The main nerve centres of RV Belgica are the bridge, from where the ship is ran, and the machine room, which contains a main engine, a secondary electric motor, three electricity generators and two hydraulic systems.

Prinses Elisabeth doopt de nieuwe RV Belgica in 2022. (Thierry Hubin, KBIN)

In 2014 the Belgian oceanographic research ship the RV A962 Belgica turned 30. In order to celebrate this anniversary and make it clear to the public and policymakers that a replacement, the RV Belgica II, is sorely needed, the RBINS has embarked upon a large scale information campaign.

The RV Belgica has watched over the North Sea nonstop for 30 years. A considerable amount of knowledge is required to keep our North Sea viable and profitable. It is in the interests of all Belgians that the that North Sea is kept in good condition. The Belgica also has an influence on the day to day life of those who live inland. Consider, for example, the impact on sustainable fishing, wind energy, sand extraction and tourism. Sadly, after 30 years a new research ship - RV Belgica II – is needed to keep the North Sea protected. A ship with room for more researchers, accurate apparatus and unmanned robotic measuring systems. You can see how it all comes together in the animation How Big Is Belgica (with thanks to BELSPO).

In June 2022, after three years of construction works in Vigo (Spain), the new RV Belgica was baptized by Princess Elisabeth.

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