Autonomous container ships ‘a reality from 2018’
Fully autonomous container ships will be a reality from 2018, according to Norwegian shipping company Kongsberg. The company is building a fully autonomous ship to operate over a short route in Norway for the fertilizer manufacturer Yara. The vessel, YARA Birkeland, is also the world’s first ‘zero emission’ electric container ship.
The ship will carry a small crew initially for testing, before operating fully crewless from 2020. Her route will take her around 40 miles between Herøya, Brevik and Larvik in southeastern Norway. She will be controlled from three separate control centres handling emergencies, decision support and surveillance, overseen by Brevik VTS to ensure safety.
The ship is expected to replace over 100 lorry journeys a day between the three sites, reducing nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide emissions by the equivalent of 40,000 lorry journeys a year.
The vessel will be 70m long overall, with a draft of 5m and an operating speed of six to 10 knots, and will be able to carry up to 4,500 tonnes of cargo. She will be proplled by two azimuth pods powered by battery. Sensors to ensure safe navigation will include radar, AIS, cameras and infra-red.
Geir Håøy, President of Kongsberg said: ‘By moving container transport from land to sea, YARA Birkeland will help to fulfil national and international environmental impact goals and is a step towards increased seaborne transportation in general.’
There are safety concerns, however. RYA cruising manager Stuart Carruthers, said: ‘I represent the RYA on the UK Maritime Autonomous Shipping working group, which has produced a code for various levels of autonomy to establish the ground rules so that no one is put at risk. The RYA would strongly resist a change to regulations and COLREGS to make autonomous shipping possible.’
Peter Due, strategic projects manager for Kongsberg, said: ‘We have systems that can spot a seagull as far away as one mile. Autonomous vessels will be as safe or safer than manned vessels.’
Crewless container ships will be launched soon, albeit on limited routes