Plans to transform historic ship berthed at Leith docks for 28 years into floating Edinburgh museum unveiled 

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The SS Explorer is regarded as a pioneering ship that made a significant contribution to climate science and understanding of marine biodiversity - now a team of volunteers have shared plans to restore the vessel and create an interactive education centre

Plans to transform a historic Scottish vessel into an interactive floating museum in Edinburgh have been unveiled at an event in Leith.

The SS Explorer, which has been berthed in Leith docks since 1996, is regarded as a pioneering vessel that made a significant contribution to climate science and biodiversity work. In service between 1956 to 1984, the ship allowed marine biologists to better understand sea temperatures and pollution, British fish breeding and fishing levels, and helped shape knowledge of oceanography and marine life.

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Meredith Greiling, SSEPS trustee said: “The Steamship Explorer was the first purpose-built science research ship to be built in Scotland so it is a historical link of scientific research at sea that informs everything we know about what is happening in the seas today - from marine biodiversity, ocean temperatures, pollution fish stocks”Meredith Greiling, SSEPS trustee said: “The Steamship Explorer was the first purpose-built science research ship to be built in Scotland so it is a historical link of scientific research at sea that informs everything we know about what is happening in the seas today - from marine biodiversity, ocean temperatures, pollution fish stocks”
Meredith Greiling, SSEPS trustee said: “The Steamship Explorer was the first purpose-built science research ship to be built in Scotland so it is a historical link of scientific research at sea that informs everything we know about what is happening in the seas today - from marine biodiversity, ocean temperatures, pollution fish stocks” | SSEPS

The SS Explorer Preservation Society (SSEPS), who saved the ship from demolition in the mid 1990s, are now hoping to restore the research vessel to its former glory - and educate a new generation about Scotland’s marine heritage via a new floating museum and accompanying onshore interpretation centre.

Speaking at an event on Friday, April 19 at the Port of Leith Distillery, where the historic ship can be viewed from the panoramic eighth floor, SSEPS volunteers and trustees shared future plans for the ship, which will require significant investment of around £500,000 and many deckhands. 

Meredith Greiling, SSEPS trustee said: “We would like to see the SS Explorer become more publicly accessible - for the last few decades the ship has been a secret behind the walls of Leith docks. Our ambition is to have a shore-side interpretation centre where people can learn about the history of the ship and why it was brought to Leith, and then make the ship itself more accessible where people can come on board and find out about it the work it did.”

She added: “It was registered in Leith throughout its career and it is absolutely one of a kind. The ship helped discover new species and developed our understanding about their life cycles and marine biodiversity. It was also the first ship to have a computer on board to process scientific data in real time - so it was very innovative and cutting edge.” 

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SSEPS volunteers shared plans to build an onshore museum installation at Leith docks and detailed plans to dry dock the historic ship for essential repairs SSEPS volunteers shared plans to build an onshore museum installation at Leith docks and detailed plans to dry dock the historic ship for essential repairs
SSEPS volunteers shared plans to build an onshore museum installation at Leith docks and detailed plans to dry dock the historic ship for essential repairs | SSEPS

SSEPS members recently celebrated an important milestone in the vessel’s conservation journey, with leading maritime heritage specialists, Wessex Archaeology, having completed a year-long review of the ship to produce a plan for its long-term survival and identify necessary repairs to keep the vessel afloat. 

Ben Saunders, from Wessex Archaeology, said: “It’s been a huge privilege to be part of the ongoing conservation of this highly significant vessel. From the stories of the crew to the exceptional preservation of compartments and fixtures to contextualising the ground-breaking marine science completed onboard this ship provides an unequalled level of detail into science and society at sea during the mid-20th century.”         

Ben Macpherson, SNP MSP for Edinburgh Northern and Leith said: “SS Explorer is a significant ship, it undertook a substantial scientific exploration, it was involved in marine science and environmental study and it has connections to both Aberdeen and here in Leith. The question is how do we take this ship, that has been maintained by a team of volunteers in a remarkable way, beyond that to become a ship that people can engage with and learn from - like they have in other cities from the Discovery in Dundee or the Glen Lee in Glasgow.” 

Mr Macpherson added: “I think the SS Explorer is an opportunity to provide a museum vessel and a space that can be visited by families and individuals with an interest in marine science and heritage. It will be a journey to get there but today is a milestone moment.”

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