VLIZ's seagoing observation capacity taken to a higher level

Blue economy
Technology & innovation

With the commissioning of the state-of-the-art robot 'USV Gobelijn' and the fast work boat 'Abbé Mann', the Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ) has reached a new milestone. In combination with the realisation of a science port in Ostend, the research institute is ready for more flexible and remotely operated groundbreaking marine research and innovation.

De werkboot Abbé Mann © STORMER

On May 30, 2024, the official inauguration of the VLIZ science port and two brand new ocean observation platforms took place. This in the presence of the Deputy Prime Minister of the Flemish Government and at the same time Flemish Minister of Fisheries. VLIZ thus expands its sailing potential, which already consisted of the Flemish research vessel RV Simon Stevin (°2012), the RIB 'Zeekat' and four seagoing robots. 

Robot 'USV Gobelijn'

With the purchase of the surface vessel 'USV Gobelijn', a so-called Uncrewed Surface Vehicle (USV), VLIZ is one of the first research institutes in the world to own such an observation platform. This robot was built in Norway by Maritime Robotics. With a length of 9 meters, the vessel can be considered a small research vessel. 

The USV Gobelijn is equipped with scientific instruments and sensors including a state-of-the-art system to study the carbon cycle and other living and non-living parameters in seawater. In addition, the USV has a unique system to launch and retrieve other robots. From a control center on shore, pilots can remotely control the USV Gobelijn worldwide. The vessel can thus carry out scientific measurements at sea for several days or even weeks at a time. This allows scientists to observe marine phenomena on longer time scales, for example across multiple tidal cycles. With its considerable autonomy, speed and sailing range, the USV Gobelijn increases the action range of VLIZ. 

This means that the sailing platform can operate - as one of the first of its kind - both in the North Sea and on the open ocean. The USV Gobelijn will pave the way to more observation, research and innovation at sea, with fewer personnel and a smaller carbon footprint. This could well be a paradigm shift in our approach to ocean observation, one that is desperately needed to fully understand the marine system and enable sustainable development of the Blue Economy.

USV Gobelijn © Eddy Decorte


Work boat ‘Abbé Mann’

The workboat 'Abbé Mann' (named after the marine scientist avant-la-lettre Théodore-Augustin Mann) can be used in a versatile manner on the Belgian part of the North Sea, allowing VLIZ to build more flexibility into its operations than ever before. The Abbé Mann measures 11 meters and was developed by the Dutch company STORMER. The combination of a limited draft of 1 meter, a sailing speed of almost 40 km/h and an A-frame with a lifting capacity of 500 kg, makes the Abbé Mann efficient, multifunctional and can also be used close to the coast. The compact vessel will facilitate research into, among other things, coastal defense and near-shore plastic pollution. Rapid interventions at events, support of diving missions and campaigns with the robotics platforms are also possible.

From now on, both vessels can also moor safely in a new science harbor in the Ostend 'Visserijdok'. A floating pontoon and an adjustable column slewing crane increase access to the dock as a marine testing environment for VLIZ's sensors and robotics.

The VLIZ fleet of new and established vessels can be deployed complementary in terms of size/draft, autonomy, speed and range. This offers VLIZ the unique opportunity to play and strengthen a leading research role in the southern North Sea.

The purchase of the Abbé Mann workboat was made possible thanks to the support of the Flemish government. The purchase of the USV Gobelijn and the construction of the science port were supported by funds acquired in the context of the 'Brexit Adjustment Reserve' (BAR). With the BAR, the EU offers financial support to organizations, companies and government agencies to mitigate and remedy the negative effects of the Brexit. With this investment, VLIZ, and by extension the entire Flemish marine research community, strengthens its role in the field of marine autonomous observation systems within a European context. This will allow it to enter into new collaborations as an equal partner with the specialist centers in the UK and the wider research community around the North Sea.

Flemish Minister of Fisheries: “With these investments, VLIZ is establishing itself among the absolute leaders worldwide in the field of innovative ocean observation and research into coastal defense and marine pollution. Flanders is par excellence a pioneer in the field of Blue Innovation. This is important for our international image and offers opportunities for new forms of cooperation in the North Sea region and beyond.”

Mark Andries (Administrator General VLAIO): “We are pleased as VLAIO to be able to contribute to the launch of this innovative marine robot in Flanders. Thanks to European resources from the Brexit Adjustment Reserve, we are making Flanders more resilient and independent of the UK in marine research. With this launch we are taking a big step forward in our mission to unravel the mysteries of the deep sea and contribute to a more sustainable marine ecosystem.

Jan Mees (general director VLIZ): “The purchase of both new ships, in combination with the mooring facilities at the Ostend 'Visserijdok', forms the final part of a strategy that aims to develop a sustainable, research-supported and integrated observation capacity at sea.”


Aavailable on request

Press contact
Bart De Smet (VLIZ): +32-(0)478-56 96 78 | bart.de.smet@vliz.be