Veto may leave research ship high and dry

The end is probably near for the RV Bellows, a shallow-water research ship operated out of St. Petersburg's port by the Florida Institute of Oceanography. 

"This vessel will be pulled next Tuesday to check the bottom again," FIO director Bill Hogarth told FOX 13 News. "We have a report we had done about five years ago saying that the vessel was dying from the inside out, which means the metal is old, it's fatigued, and so I'm worried safety-wise about taking people out." 

The Bellows was built in 1969 and is used by all of the colleges and universities in the state that have marine science programs.  She is also a tool for researchers studying a wide range of subjects along the coastline, including red tide and BP oil spill impacts. 

The Bellows is the only ship in FIO's fleet capable of those chores.

This year's Florida legislature appropriated $6 million to build a replacement vessel, but Governor Rick Scott torpedoed that expenditure with a line-item veto.  Re-running the legislative gauntlet and building another ship will take two or more years. 

"This vessel doesn't have that," Hogarth said. "It doesn't have 24 months or 30 months left." 

FIO's director said pulling the Bellows out of service takes a tool away from students and also puts significant research dollars at risk. 

"I know one grant that's getting ready to come to us that needs this vessel for four years.  It's about $5-million," Hogarth added. "They'll have to go somewhere else...I don't know, Mississippi or somebody who's got a vessel."