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Shinkai 6500 and its Quest for the Limit of Life


R/V Yokosuka during its stop-over in Cape Town.


Shinkai 6500 is a manned submersible that can dive to depths of 6 500 metres – deeper than any other manned submersible for academic research in the world today. It carries one researcher and two pilots.


SAEON’s Dr Juliet Hermes (left) and Captain Shinya Ryono exchange memorial plates.


Yokosuka crew member and SAEON Intern Lauren Abrahams (right) in front of Shinkai 6500 on board the RV Yokosuka.

By Lauren Abrahams, DST-NRF Biodiversity Intern

SAEON Egagasini Node staff recently had the opportunity to go aboard the Japanese support vessel R/V Yokosuka, carrying the manned submersible Shinkai 6500, while it was docked in Cape Town.

The stop-over formed part of the Yokosuka’s year-long voyage around the world, during which researchers from the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC) use the Shinkai 6500 to visit hydrothermal vent fields, marine seepage sites, the ultra-hadal zone of deep-sea trenches and other extreme environments in its quest to shed light on the habitable limits of life and unique survival strategies.

Quest for the Limit of Life

The voyage, which started on 5 January 2013 from Yokosuka in Japan, will include the Indian Ocean, South Atlantic, Caribbean Sea and the South Pacific Ocean. The name of this voyage, QUELLE, is an acronym for “Quest for the Limit of Life”. It also means “roots” or “origin” in German. After the stop-over in Cape Town, the vessel is headed to the coast of Brazil.

The support ship Yokosuka performs surveys of the deep sea floor by acting as a support ship for the Shinkai 6500 - a manned, deep submergence vehicle that can dive to depths of 6 500 metres. Instruments aboard the Shinkai 6500 include two high-definition cameras, a digital stills camera, a CTD/DO which measures salinity, water temperature, pressure and dissolved oxygen, two manipulators (mechanical appendages), and two mobile sample baskets (slurp gun attachment for sampling).

With all the instrumentation and technological advancements it is expected that a great wealth of knowledge and information will be collected during this voyage, which will further our understanding of the distribution of marine organisms occurring in the deep, unexplored depths of the ocean.

Exchange of memorial plates

During the stop-over in Cape Town a special reception was held, which was attended by JAMSTEC scientists, crew of the Yokosuka, members of the South African Network for Coastal and Oceanic Research (SANCOR) and other dignitaries. The purpose of the event was to exchange memorial plates between JAMSTEC and SANCOR. JAMSTEC representative Captain Shinya Ryono and SANCOR representative Dr Juliet Hermes, Manager of SAEON’s Egagasini Node, officiated at the handing over of the memorial plates.

Dr Juliet Hermes also received a book from JAMSTEC entitled Deep Sea Life - Biological observations using research submersibles.

For more information about the QUELLE expedition, visit

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