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Global Supply Chain News: Progress Continues on Autonomous Cargo Ships, but They Are Unlikely to Cover Long Voyages for Years

 

Yara Birkeland Expacts to Sail in Late 2018, the "Tesla of the Seas"

July 25, 2017
SCDigest Editorial Staff

We reported a few months ago on a Norwegian company's aggressive plans for developing an autonomous container ship.

Now, an update on the progress -and better insight into where this is headed.

Supply Chain Digest Says...

While Yara may envision much longer routes, others are more skeptical that the autonomous ships will be used beyond relative short runs.


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Scandinavian chemical company Yara has commissioned a battery powered, autonomous container ship that some in the industry are calling the "Tesla of the Seas."

In late 2018, the ship is scheduled to begin moving 100 containers of fertilizer on a 37-mile trip to the port of Larvik - freight that is currently being moved by truck.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the vessel will cost $25 million, about three times as much as a conventional container ship of its size. How is there a payback? Yara says that without the need for bunker fuel or crew its annual operating costs might be slashed by as much as 90%.

Using GPS technology, radar, cameras and sensors, the Yara Birkeland is designed to navigate itself around other ships and to dock on its own.

Yara is partnering with Kongsberg Gruppen AS A, which builds guidance systems for civilian and military uses, on the project.

In addition to reducing fuel and labor costs, the Birkeland project is being promoted as a way to cut emissions by reducing 40,000 truck trips a year through southern Norway.

The Birkeland will become autonomous in stages. First, a single container will be used as a manned bridge on board. That bridge will then be moved to shore and become a remote-operation center. The ship will eventually run fully on its own, under supervision from shore, in 2020.

"When the bridge goes on land, it will be something like flying a drone from a command center," said Kongsberg's chief executive, Geir Haoy. "It will be GPS navigation and lots of high-tech cameras to see what's going around the ship."


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Petter Ostbo, Yara's head of production who leads the project, said the company would look to invest in bigger ships and use them for longer routes once international regulations are in place for crewless vessels. "Maybe even move our fertilizer from Holland all the way to Brazil," he told the Wall Street Journal.

But that may take quite a while. The International Maritime Organization, which regulates maritime travel, doesn't expect legislation governing crewless ships to be in place before 2020 - and that date seems like a stretch to us.

While Yara may envision much longer routes, others are more skeptical that the autonomous ships will be used beyond relative short runs.

"Shipping executives say autonomous vessels will be popular for short sea routes, but doubt they will replace oceangoing ships that move thousands of containers across continents with an average crew size of around 25," the Wall Street Journal says.

"It's not a matter of technology, which is already there, but a business case," said Lars Jensen, chief executive of SeaIntelligence Consulting in Copenhagen. "Autonomous ships are expensive to begin with, and have to be built very robust, because if they break down, the cost of getting a team to fix them it in the middle of the ocean will be very high."

Others are also developing autonomous container ships. Rolls-Royce is very active, for example, with its efforts connected to something called the Maritime Unmanned Navigation through Intelligence in Networks (MUNIN). The program is co-funded by the European Commissions and aims to develop and verify a concept for an autonomous ship.

Rolls-Royce says it plans to launch robotic ships by 2020. The first vessels will likely be tugboats and ferries, with cargo ships that can sail through international waters to follow.

You can find a video of the Yara Birkeland concept below.

Yara Shares Vision for First Fully Autonomous Container Ship

 



What are your thoughts on autonomous ships? Do you see them working on long voyages? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback ection below.

 

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