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Norwegian billionaire to build giant ship for environment research

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Norwegian billionaire to build giant ship for environment research
Kjell Inge Røkke pictured in 2012. Photo: Lise Åserud/NTB scanpix
13:12 CEST+02:00
Norwegian billionaire Kjell Inge Røkke is funding the purchase of a giant research vessel for the World Wild Fund for Nature (WWF).

The 181-meter-long vessel, which is scheduled to be launched in the summer of 2020, will give researchers tools they could not otherwise have dreamed of, reports Aftenposten.

Equipment on board the research ship will enable researchers to take measurements from the atmosphere as well as 6,000 metres below the surface of the sea – including up to 20 metres under the seabed.

Mini-submarines and both under and overwater drones will be attached to the research vessel, which will also house an auditorium and seven laboratories, writes Aftenposten.

"This vessel will be able to take marine research to a completely new level. Finding solutions has never been more urgent," the head of WWF Norway Nina Jensen said in a statement.

The ship will be able to collect and melt up to five tonnes of plastic every day without any harmful emissions, reports the newspaper.

READ ALSO: Norwegian government to spend millions removing litter from sea

“I have had the pleasure of being deeply involved in this project and will continue to be,” Røkke said in a rare interview with Aftenposten.

Røkke, a former fisherman who made his fortune after buying a trawler in the United States in 1982, is funding the entire project out of his own pocket, paying an unknown sum for the purchase and maintenance of the craft as well as its crew of 30 and 60-strong research team.

“The sea has given me great opportunities. I'm grateful for that,” the billionaire said.

A desire to use his fortune to benefit society lies behind the idea to fund the ship, Røkke said.

“I want to give the lion's share of what I have earned back to society. This ship is part of that. The idea of a ship like this has developed over many years, but the plans only became reality over the last year,” he said.

Røkke controls several companies through his 66.7-percent stake in holding company Aker, including oil production group Aker BP, oil services group Aker Solutions, engineering group Kvaerner and biotech and fisheries group Aker Biomarine.

The businessman was reported last year by Kapital to be the tenth richest man in Norway, with a fortune totalling 17.2 billion kroner ($2 billion), and has also been named the country's richest man in the past.

“I have never worked with a company that has been so firm in its principle of operating sustainably, so we didn't hesitate when Røkke invited us to work on the development of this research ship,” said Jensen to Aftenposten.

Jensen and WWF already have collaborated with Røkke in other maritime projects over the last decade, reports the newspaper.

The research expedition vessel (REV) will be available for expeditions and research as well as for hire as a private yacht, according to the report.

Income will be used to reduce maintenance costs and help fund research and equipment costs.

Røkke told Aftenposten that he was concerned about both climate change and plastic pollution in the seas, but that his passion for science was one of the key elements in his funding the project.

“I have a desire to give something back. The ship will be a platform for creating more science and understanding. Researchers and other academic disciplines will hopefully be able to develop solutions and make a difference,” he said.

The billionaire added that he partly chose to work with WWF due to their commitment to the environment without using scare tactics or hyperbole that weaken the environmentalist cause.

“I don't think we are near judgement day. The challenges are great, but we can solve them. I'm not in doubt about that. Panic and scare propaganda are often an obstacle to finding good solutions. I look forward to working with Nina and WWF,” he said.

READ ALSO: All the news on Norway and the environment

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