Au­ton­o­mous con­tainer ships ‘a re­al­ity from 2018’

Yachting Monthly - - NEWS -

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

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