Oil Drilling Ship Turned Research Vessel Sets Sail

The OceanXplorer ventures on its first mission

The OceanXplorer at work.
Alf van Beem

There’s a particular irony that comes from a vessel once involved in drilling for oil being repurposed with a thoroughly ecological mission in mind. Yet that’s exactly what’s been done with the ship now known as the OceanXplorer. While its origins are very much in one specific industry, its present and future have charted it to somewhere very different.

An article at The New York Times by William J. Broad delves into the unconventional origins of OceanXplorer. In 2016, investor Ray Dalio purchased what the article refers to as “a lightly used oil drilling ship at a very attractive price,” setting the story of OceanXplorer into motion. Dalio’s goal? To create something that can inspire future scientists and explorers.

The vessel can hold 85 people; its resources include a duo of robots, and it’s also capable of docking 3 submarines. Judging by the photos in the article and on OceanXplorer’s social media presence, the ship blends technological innovation with an impressively streamlined aesthetic. Or, as neuroscientist and OceanX vice chairman Vincent Pieribone says, “It’s like something out of a Bond movie.”

The article also notes that a filmed account of the ship’s first voyage is currently in production: Mission OceanX will air on National Geographic television. Will it spark the intended sense of wonder from its viewers? Looking at these images of the ship at work, it’s hard to think otherwise.

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