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AFSC Historical Corner:  Miller Freeman,  Research Trawler from 1967 to 2013

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Miller Freeman
The Miller Freeman in Lake Erie, Ohio, after her construction in 1967.  Rudy-Moc Studio, photographer.  Archival photo by Mr. Steve Nicklas, NGS/RSD.  NOAA Photo Library.

Vessel Details
Year built: 1967
Location built: Lorain, OH
Builder: American Shipbuilding Co.
Designer: Philip F. Spaulding
Other names/id: R 223, FRS 21  (both NOAA)
#508932  (USCG ID)
Length: 215'
Breadth: 42'
Draft: 20'
Tonnage (tons): 1,515 gross
Original engine: 2,200 hp GM diesel,
with 3 auxiliaries
Average speed: 12.5 knots
Cruising range: 13,000 miles
Fisheries service: 1967-2013
Disposition: decommissioned 2013

In the mid-1960s the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries (BCF) required a large vessel for its Biological Laboratory in Seattle, Washington, for oceanographic research and high-seas fishery investigations. Costing nearly $3.4 million, the 215-foot Miller Freeman became the newest and largest BCF research ship to date when her hull was launched at Lorain, Ohio, on 2 April 1966.

The vessel was named after Miller Freeman (1875-1955), a publisher/editor who, among other publications, founded the trade magazine "Pacific Fisherman" in 1903. He went on to become president of Miller Freeman Publications, Inc. and served on the Pacific Fisheries Conference, North Pacific Fisheries Treaty, and International Halibut Commission. Freeman became a long-time advocate for fishermen and the development/preservation of U.S. fisheries.

The Pacific stern trawler Freeman was designed in 1965 by naval architect, Philip F. Spaulding. The ship could accommodate 10 scientists and a crew of 26; and was equipped with laboratories for oceanographic, biological, chemical, electronic, and physical process studies. A large living-room-sized live-tank system allowed live sea specimens to be sustained under pressure.
The Freeman's stern-ramp configuration allowed for trawling operation in deep-sea waters. She had a 2-ton capacity articulated crane (13' horizontal reach) mounted on the port-side forecastle, but lacked any lifting capability on the after deck. Among the installed equipment were a Triton fish counting echo sounder, Loran, a 48-mile-range Decca radar and Apelco automatic radio direction finder. With a large fuel capacity of 150,155 gallons, which provided a 13,000-mile cruising range, and water tanks for holding 7,350 gallons of fresh water, the Freeman was able to remain at sea for long periods of time.

Miller Freeman launch
The launch on 2 April 1966.  Note the notched-out stern for the trawl ramp.
Archival photo by Mr. Steve Nicklas, NGS/RSD.  NOAA Photo Library.

"A major and unique asset is the 12-foot retractable centerboard and its contribution to the quality of the hydroacoustic surveys and other acoustic data collection. The ability to move the ship's hydroacoustic fish survey, acoustic doppler current profiler, and other transducers on the bottom of the centerboard, away from the acoustic noise created by the hull, significantly enhances the quality of the data collected and the scientific products based on that data." (NOAA Office of Maine & Aviation Operations flyer). This stabilizing device also helped reduce roll whenever the vessel was stationary while fishing or gathering oceanographic data.

  Miller Freeman's icy deck
Ice creates difficult conditions aboard the Freeman.
Photo credit: NOAA NMAO Pacific Marine Center.
NOAA Photo Library.

Other special features include a hydraulic variable-pitch propeller for providing precision control from the wheelhouse over engine speeds without the use of a clutch, two evaporation distillers capable of producing 3,600 gallons of fresh cooking and bathing water from sea water, and an intake probe on the bow which filters salt-water for use in chemical analyses and the aquariums aboard ship.

In 1967 after the remaining construction was complete, the Freeman's shakedown cruise took her from Ohio, down through the Panama Canal, and on to arrive at her new home port in Seattle late in the year. It would not be until 1969, however, before the ship put to sea, sailing to the southern Bering Sea for the Auke Bay Laboratory's oceanographic and crab surveys.

Her early service was again suspended when she was temporarily deactivated on 1 July 1970, due to lack of funding. At the end of 1972, further cutbacks put a stop to the ongoing work which was being done to prepare the vessel for her eventual reactivation. It would be five years before the ship was reactivated and fully rigged in 1975. At this time she was finally equipped with the much needed 5-ton lift crawler crane for her after deck.

When the Freeman returned to action in 1975 she worked in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea for energy-related biological baseline studies. Much of her duties that year were with the NOAA Offshore Continental Shelf Survey and Assessment Program primarily doing resource surveys for MARMAP (Marine Resources Monitoring, Assessment, & Prediction Program).

On 22 October 1975, she received a request from the U.S. Coast Guard to assist in the rescue the crab vessel Aquarian, which had lost her steering in the Aleutian Island chain. Despite the rough seas in 40- to 60-knot winds, the Freeman's crew was able to toss a line to the distressed boat and safely tow her to Akutan Island -- ending the two-day ordeal. The following year, mastodon (or mammoth) tusk, tooth and mandible fragments were discovered during trawl hauls done by the Freeman in the Chukchi Sea (and Kotzebue Sound), of interest to the research concerning the Bering Land Bridge.

Over the years the Miller Freeman continued to be a valuable asset to NOAA and the Alaska Fisheries Science Center, serving as a working support platform for the study of the ocean's living resources. Through the early 2000s, the ship remained one of the largest research trawlers in the United States, until October 2010, when she was placed in inactive status. The Freeman was decommissioned on 29 March 2013 in Seattle and sold at auction later that year on 5 December for $337,550.

Miller Freeman
The Miller Freeman in 2000 at Kodiak, Alaska.  David Csepp (AFSC), photographer.

Miller Freeman photos and a video in the AFSC Multimedia Gallery.

Additional information:

NOAA Marine Operations website

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