Japan's Science and Technology Agency is likely to name Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) as the main contractor to build the world's largest and most powerful deep-water survey drill ship.
The order, under a five-year programme beginning this month, will include other sub-contractors for fabricating the hull.
Mitsubishi Engineering & Shipbuilding, Kawasaki Heavy Industries and Hitachi Zosen have expressed interest in the job.
The United States-owned Joides Resolution is the world's only deep-water survey drill ship at the moment. The Japanese agency has decided to build a similar state-of-the-art vessel to contribute to international research.
The research ship will be of about 30,000 gross registered tonnes, will measure about 190 metres and will have a cruise speed of 13 knots. It will have accommodation for up to 150, including scientists.
Separately, MHI appears to have given up hope of winning orders for large passenger vessels from foreign cruise-ship operators.
Informed sources said MHI had terminated negotiations with owners, including Princess Cruises of Britain, on the construction of such ships.