Technology and efficiency - BIMCO Bulletin

Technology and efficiency

TECHNOLOGY AND EFFICIENCY March 2021 Are autonomous ships on the horizon? By Craig Eason, Journalist and event host Millions of dollars are invested into the research and trials of systems needed to expand autonomous shipping. The question is: will it pay off? Any discussion about autonomous ships has to begin with a debate about definitions. Autonomous ships, autonomous systems, unmanned vessels, drones even ghost ships are words and phrases that are often interchanged despite the efforts of regulators and others to explain the difference. rnulf Jan Rdseth, a scientist at the Norwegian research institute SINTEF, who runs a Norwegian and an international forum on autonomous ships, says we should not make the mistake of believing unmanned means autonomous. He has been vocal about the need to differentiate between when a ship or vessel is autonomous which could still mean it has a crew on board and when it is unmanned but heavily controlled from ashore. A vessel can, of course, be both unmanned and autonomous, and it this idea that has piqued the public imagination. Different types of vessels and craft also often seem to get grouped together when people talk about autonomy. There are a growing number of small drones that float in our oceans but they are more like intelligent untethered and mobile buoys a far cry from having autonomous, unmanned commercial tonnage on the high seas. For all those reasons, Rdseth prefers talking about autonomous systems rather than autonomous ships, especially as numerous research projects take off. Collaborate or compete? We should not make the mistake of believing unmanned means autonomous Now the hype seen two or three years ago has died down, there is a growing sense of endeavour, with a number of countries and regions believing in the national benefit of leading the race towards advanced digital systems and autonomy (and not just in shipping). The European Union (EU), Norway, China, South Korea, Japan and Singapore are all working on major projects funded from the public purse. Most talk about collaborative work and the need for international standards, but nearly all also talk about taking a leadership role in the advancement of autonomous transport technology and standards. In Korea, the government launched the countrys $140m KAS project last summer and the European Union has funded numerous projects beginning with e-navigation developments a decade ago; the MUNIN autonomous ship project; the Horizon 2020-funded Autoship scheme, which will see autonomy trialled on a fish-feeder vessel and an inland barge; and the Aegis project, which focuses on autonomous ships being linked with autonomous ports. Patrick Child, Deputy Director-General of Europes Directorate-General for Research and Innovation, who took part in a recent EU summit on maritime autonomous surface ships (MASS), says the aim of these developments and future projects that fall under the drive to green the regions shipping industry, is to keep Europe in the front line of technical progress in shipping. Going deep sea Craig Eason is a business journalist, editor, photographer, event moderator and public speaker. He reports on the transformation of the shipping industry and has been covering the regulatory framework, technological developments and social and environmental impact of shipping for 15 years. Craig is editorial director of Fathom World, a provider of news and information relating to the changes in the maritime sector, and former Deputy Editor of Lloyds List. While many of the systems trials needed for autonomous or unmanned operations take place on coastal, short-sea or inland vessels, Japanese shipowner NYK Line tested advanced navigation systems on the high seas last year. The trials, including self-determined collision avoidance, took place on a vehicles carrier the Iris Leader en route from China to Japan. While it is common for vessels to use autopilot and automatic waypoint navigation, the new technology tested enabled a radar-based target echo to be linked to an autonomous navigation system to demonstrate remote navigation. Hideyuki Ando, Senior General Manager at MTI, the research and development arm of NYK Line, says the objective is to enhance onboard safety and reduce workloads, including the potential to create periodically unmanned bridges, albeit under strict conditions. The concept of an unmanned bridge is under consideration by others too, and there are papers at the International Maritime Organization (IMO) for the proposal to evolve. The caveats mentioned by Ando include the right weather and traffic situations, and with proven, reliable technology coupled to relevant alarms. Such conditions could become a class notation as it has already for vessels operating with unmanned machinery spaces (engine rooms). NYK Line is running a further project, in conjunction with The Nippon Foundation, onboard the coastal container vessel Suzaka. This aims to have fully unmanned and autonomous systems in use within two years on a day-long voyage between Tokyo Bay and Nagoya Bay. It is part of a larger Japanese plan to make half the countrys domestic fleet unmanned by 2040. Ageing crew demographics and a lack of interest by young people in such careers have been cited as some of the reasons for the focus. Evolution not revolution All the projects working on elements of autonomous or unmanned craft are taking incremental steps forward, and the technology firms all say they see the move to autonomy as evolution not revolution. The IMO and the EU now have guidelines for trials of maritime autonomous systems and ships, including the designation of trial areas and how to liaise with port authorities, vessel traffic services and other entities. China, Japan, Korea and Singapore have similar guidelines to enable testing of integrated systems on vessels at sea as the technology develops and improves. More than the ship, the port too An element of autonomy being focused on is the integration of autonomous systems across the whole transport chain. As Quah Ley Hoon, CEO, Singapores MPA says MASS will challenge the assumptions of shipping, and create a need for smarter ports, and secure, adequate and secure data connectivity. MPA is leading the MASSPorts initiative, bringing together expertise from the authorities in China, Denmark, Finland, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Korea and Singapore. There is more to be gained from having autonomy across the port system to better enable the benefits of autonomy, she says. For example, this can be seen with the development of the Yara Birkelend, the worlds first fully electric and autonomous container ship, where the benefits will be seen across the whole automated transport chain, not just on the vessel. As such developments spread internationally, Quah Ley Hoon says there is a growing need for MASS trial guidelines in the port, and crucially, the establishment of common terminology and common standards. Staying ahead of the regulations While autonomy will bring huge benefits, according to those who support and back technology developments, there needs to be a rethink of the shipping industry as a whole, says Andreas Nordseth, Director General of the Danish Maritime Authority. Technological innovation could bring about a change in who holds the upper hand All ships perform in the same way, he said at the recent EU MASS Summit. The operational model is based on a model from more than 200 years ago. If we want to gain from smart operations, we need to open this black box, and autonomous systems can do something about this. While Nordseth sees regulation as a driver, he agrees it is a double-edged sword. It creates safety and a level playing field, but it does set limits and change takes time. Photo (top): iStock / Rangsarit Chaiyakun He believes the industry should collectively work towards technology standards and compatibility, adding that, if it wants autonomous systems, waiting for the regulations will halt much of the development. And this is where the fears in more traditional shipping models lie technological innovation could bring about a change in who holds the upper hand. Connect with BIMCO Facebook Twitter Linkedin YouTube