Reportage

On board exploration ship OceanXplorer during stopover in Monaco

oceanx-monaco-navire-scientifique
Monaco Tribune / Camille Esteve

Prince Albert II visited the impressive scientific vessel.

If you were in the vicinity of the Quai Rainier III on 30 and 31 August, you may have noticed a large white boat with an electric blue helicopter on top. The 87-metre long ship, named OceanXplorer, was passing through the Principality. Its mission is to welcome on board scientists and videographers who wish to unlock the secrets of the sea bed.

OceanXplorer made a stopover in Monaco to celebrate the long-standing commitment of both the Prince Albert II Foundation and the international non-profit organisation OceanX to ocean research, education and marine conservation efforts.

We had the opportunity of visiting this former oil rig assistance vessel, which was bought by OceanX in 2018 and put into service in 2020.

Robots to explore the seabed

Once on deck, we were introduced to two yellow, fully immersible robots. These devices can descend to up to 1 000 metres and are equipped to allow their passengers to dive safely and capture images that will prove invaluable to the scientists who will study them.

"People who have studied the oceans all their lives are discovering things they have never seen before, there have been some real revelations", explained Vincent Pieribone, Chief Scientist and co-CEO of OceanX.

Once inside, we discover an extremely well-endowed vessel in terms of scientific and technological equipment. And with good reason: OceanXplorer can accommodate around 40 scientists and videographers on board.

They can take advantage of a whole arsenal of diving equipment, but also use robots capable of descending - in some cases - to a depth of 6 000 metres. A well-equipped control room - almost like something out of a sci-fi movie - enables the underwater operations to be monitored on a large screen.

SEE ALSO: Discover “Tonnerre”, the helicopter carrier that stopped over at Port Hercule

The data collected by the divers is observed and analysed in one of the ship's four on-board laboratories. With state-of-the-art equipment, these research facilities are crucial not only for the scientific community, but also for the general public, as OceanXplorer's aim is also to raise awareness about ocean protection.

oceanx-laboratoire-monaco
© Monaco Tribune / Camille Esteve

LIRE AUSSI : The Prince Albert II Foundation and the DIMFE launch a new call for water conservation projects

Observing the sea from the air

After a maze of corridors and staircases - requiring the presence of a crew member to avoid getting lost - we emerge at the top of the ship, on the helipad. From here we can get a close look at the little blue helicopter, which can accommodate up to six passengers and can even land on the water thanks to a system of buoys attached to the skids.

oceanxplorer-helicoptere-monaco
© Monaco Tribune / Camille Esteve

Because sometimes, marine species are best observed from the air. It should be noted that the ship is capable of accommodating larger helicopters on board. OceanXplorer is therefore using all the means at its disposal to study the oceans since, as Vincent Pieribone reminds us, "80% of the seabed has not yet been mapped".

The scientists can discuss their findings and projects in the conference room. They also have access to a "media centre", equipped with Microsoft virtual reality headsets, which enable 3D hologram projection and provide a better representation of the different aquatic environments.

oceanx-monaco-casque-realite-virtuelle
© Monaco Tribune / Camille Esteve

The visit ends with a final control area, where we are welcomed by Captain Roger. He and his crew monitor the progress of operations at sea and can even share videos of their latest explorations, such as in the Red Sea, observing its corals.

oceanx-monaco-zone-controle
© Monaco Tribune / Camille Esteve

Prince Albert II's visit

The short stopover in Monaco served not only to celebrate the partnership with the Prince Albert II Foundation, but also to pay tribute to the Princely Family, for whom scientific discovery and the preservation of marine ecosystems have been long-standing priorities.

Prince Albert II was invited to visit the impressive ship, along with his nephew Pierre Casiraghi. "OceanX is dedicated to making the ocean accessible to the world to further ocean education and conservation efforts, and we are thrilled to have The Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation as a partner in our work. We’re honoured to work with an organisation with such a deep legacy of support for the world’s oceans and commitment to our shared mission. We’re grateful for the support from the government of Monaco and the incredible ocean scientists who are uncovering the secrets of our oceans every day," stated Vincent Pieribone.

prince-albert-ii-oceanx-fondation-monaco
© Gaetan Luci / Prince's Palace

Olivier Wenden, Vice President and CEO of the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, also welcomed the partnership: "Welcoming the OceanXplorer research ship in Monaco is a fantastic opportunity to highlight the essential link between science and awareness. We are proud to partner with OceanX and share with them the same goal of being science facilitators and ambassadors. Discovering the secret beauty hidden in our seas and revealing them to the general public through powerful images that carry scientific messages is crucial to better educate and to inspire action."