DRASSM and iXblue unveil the future archaeological research vessel Alfred Merlin

The French Department of Underwater and Submarine Archaeological Research (DRASSM – Ministry of Culture) and iXblue unveiled, today, the future underwater archaeological research vessel Alfred Merlin during the ceremonial joining of the vessel’s two half-hulls. The Alfred Merlin, built in La Ciotat by the iXblue shipyard, intended to support and extend the range of the DRASSM’s growing maritime activities, will enter operational service in the spring of 2021. It will be one of the largest composite vessels in the world, with a tonnage of 498 UMS. Packed with technological innovations, it is the precursor of a new generation of more economical, greener and more efficient vessels.

With a length of 46 meters and a maximum width of 10.80 m and a draft of 3.2 meters, the Alfred Merlin will have a displacement of 400 tons. It will be able to reach a maximum speed of 15 knots, will carry provisions for up to 10 days and fuel for 3,500 nautical miles. Its composite structure, 60% lighter than its steel equivalent, will reduce its environmental impact: lower greenhouse gas emissions, lower fuel consumption, eliminating anti-corrosion treatments, improving its underwater acoustic signature, and limiting the propagation of vibrations and underwater noise.

“iXblue is proud to be taking part in this adventure with the DRASSM”, says Fabien Napolitano, iXblue’s CEO. “Participating in the development and construction of the Alfred Merlin, which foreshadows a new generation of scientific vessels, is a source of great pride for our Group and is part of our strategy to rethink the shipbuilding industry. The development of this vessel will also have made use of many skills within our company. Our inertial navigation units and artificial intelligence solutions will ensure the safety of the ship and of its navigation. Our Bragg gratings, made of special optical fibers and embedded in the ship’s hull, will enable the stresses exerted on the hull to be measured in real time, to optimize the construction of future ships. The Alfred Merlin will therefore be a true laboratory vessel throughout its life and will pave the way for a new type of research vessel.”

“The construction of the underwater archaeological research vessel Alfred Merlin, the second large vessel built in less than a decade for the DRASSM, confirms the extraordinary vitality of French research in a discipline which our country has played a large part in inventing and in which France leads the world”, explains Michel L’Hour, director of DRASSM. “Equipped with high-performance electronic detection systems and a fleet of robots built specially by the DRASSM and the Montpellier Laboratory of Informatics, Robotics and Microelectronics for very deep-water research, the Merlin will help better protect, study and promote the immersed heritage in all the waters under French jurisdiction, both around mainland France as well as in the overseas territories.”