Today, an agreement was signed for the transfer of the legendary research vessel “Belgica” to Ukraine by the Belgian government, following a Memorandum of Understanding signed between the Belgian Federal Science Policy Office, the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, and the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources of Ukraine in July 2021.

The vessel has been a flagship of Belgium’s environmental monitoring in the North-East Atlantic until a new research vessel, also named “Belgica”, was built. It was then decided to provide the fully operational ship to the Ukrainian Scientific Center of the Ecology of the Sea (UkrSES), to reinforce monitoring of the marine environment in the Black Sea region, considering that Ukraine does not at present have any operational vessel suitable for sea monitoring. As a follow-up, joint Belgium-Ukrainian surveys are planned both in the Black Sea and North-East Atlantic regions.

During the event, State Secretary for Economic Recovery and Strategic Investments, in charge of Scientific Policy Thomas Dermine said: “After nearly one million kilometres covered and more than 1,000 scientific campaigns to increase knowledge of the seas, Belgium bids farewell to the research vessel Belgica today. As a sailing laboratory, the ship was the flagship of Belgian marine science for 37 years. With a heavy heart we say farewell, but I am very pleased that the ship will have a second life thanks to our cooperation with the Ukrainian Scientific Center of the Ecology of the Sea.”

The Ukrainian Minister of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources, Roman Abramovsky, stated: "We are very grateful to the Belgian party for such an important gift to Ukraine - the research vessel “Belgica”. Using it we are planning already this year to renew scientific monitoring surveys in the Black Sea and later in the Azov Sea as well. Hope to do it jointly with our Belgian colleagues. This will promote not only the implementation of the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive as a part of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement but finally rehabilitation of the Black and Azov Seas”.

In the next few days, the vessel will start its cruise from Zeebrugge, Belgium to its new homeport in Odesa, Ukraine. During the ship’s 8,600-km-long journey, scientists will assess floating marine macrolitter, collect samples of seawater and bottom sediments for analysis of the wide range of pollutants, and perform a unique screening of the presence of more than tens of thousands of emerging contaminants, microplastics, environmental DNA for assessing biodiversity and microbial DNA revealing the presence of antibiotic resistance genes. This ambitious scientific programme titled “Cruise of Three European Seas” (North-East Atlantic, Mediterranean and the Black Seas), as well as the transfer of the vessel, is organized and financed by the EU/UNDP project “European Union for Improving Environmental Monitoring of the Black Sea” (EU4EMBLAS) and supported scientifically by the EC Joint Research Centre and UkrSES.

“The European Union has been working hand-in-hand with Ukraine and other coastal countries to transform the Black Sea into a welcoming home for science, forward-looking policies, and investments that benefit people and marine ecosystems alike. With EU4EMBLAS and many other programmes to support and accelerate the green transition, the EU continues to be ready to support improved environmental protection and economic and social resilience in the Black Sea basin,” said Lawrence Meredith, Director, European Commission.

“UNDP is committed to supporting scientific collaboration and transfer of knowledge and experience among European and national institutions. We are honoured to assist with the transfer of the research vessel “Belgica” – a generous gift from the Belgian Government to Ukraine, which will help build further capacities for environmental monitoring. We are grateful to the Government of Belgium and the European Union for our long-standing and excellent cooperation to advance Black Sea environmental protection,” mentioned Georges Van Montfort, Deputy Director, UNDP Representation Office in Brussels.

It is expected that the vessel will arrive in Ukraine in the middle of October 2021, where it will be renamed, and start its activities in the Black Sea region.

Background: The EU/UNDP project “European Union for Improving Environmental Monitoring in the Black Sea” (EU4EMBLAS) is the fourth phase of the assistance project since 2014 funded by the EU to help Ukraine and other riparian countries to protect the Black Sea. The key activities of the project included open seas surveys, large-scale collection of environmental data using novel monitoring techniques, and public awareness-raising in the Black Sea region. Among the key achievements of the previous phases were the development of well populated Black Sea Water Quality Database, initial assessment of the environmental status of the studied parts of the Black Sea according to the requirements of EU Marine Framework Strategy Directive (MSFD; open sea) and Water Framework Directive (WFD; coastal regions).  The current project phase complements the needs to further develop national capacities – technical and personal, to implement marine environment monitoring programmes, in line with the Bucharest Convention and EU reporting requirements. It provides further technical assistance focused on establishing modern systems and facilities for environmental monitoring, capacity building, assessment of environmental status in line with EU MSFD/WFD, and public awareness raising on the Black Sea environmental issues.

UNDP Around the world