Shipping innovation is moving faster than regulation

Regulation is struggling to keep pace with change on the water as innovation in autonomous shipping takes great strides towards crewless vessels. Credit:  rolls-royce.com

Regulation is struggling to keep pace with change on the water as innovation in autonomous shipping takes great strides towards crewless vessels. Credit: rolls-royce.com

Innovation in the field of autonomous shipping is moving at a far greater pace than the international rules that will regulate the industry can be established, according to Rolls-Royce.

Kevin Daffey, director ship intelligence, engineering  and technology at Rolls-Royce Commercial Marine, told the Maritime Autonomous Ships Regulatory Working Group conference that Scandinavian countries are moving ahead with the development of autonomous ships that will prove the technology in local waters, and will operate under local regulations.

The autonomous vessel revolution is fast approaching; the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has been carrying out a scoping exercise since last year that will identify the regulations that need to be changed for autonomous vessel operations in international waters. However, companies such as Norway’s Yara, which produces agricultural products, are planning to operate autonomous vessels well in advance of these new rules.

Yara has designed an electric-powered vessel, the Yara Birkeland, that will carry over 100 containers per day from Yara’s factory in Porsgrunn to the Norwegian ports of Brevik and Larvik. Yara Birkeland is expected to start operations in the first quarter of 2020, initially with a crew on board to operate the vessel and then with increasing autonomy until the vessel operates entirely autonomously.

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The vessel will load, dock and sail without crew, but with shoreside oversight, and it will replace the more than 100 trucks a day that drive from Yara’s production facilities to Brevik and Larvik.

Technology that will operate the vessel has already been produced by another Norwegian company, Kongsberg, and some of this technology is already being used on ferries throughout Norway.

Rolls-Royce Marine was recently acquired by Kongsberg. It is building 16 environmentally friendly ferries for the Norwegian operator Fjord1 and has orders for two more from another Norwegian operator, FosenNamsos Sjø. The ferries incorporate Rolls-Royce Marine’s Autocrossing systems.

In a statement, Rolls-Royce Marine said, “The new generation of environmentally friendly ferries have strict annual limits on energy consumption as part of the commercial agreement between the ferry operator and the Government. The automatic crossing system provides safe, predictable and energy-efficient transit back and forth by automatically controlling the vessel’s acceleration, deceleration, speed and track.”

The system requires the vessel’s captain to supervise the automatic system and intervene using traditional maneuvering systems if needed. If the captain is not able to take manual control of the ship for some reason, the system stops the vessel at a safe distance from the quayside and keeps it safely positioned automatically until further action can be taken.

“The Automatic Crossing System can be installed today as an add-on to any standard Rolls-Royce azimuthing thruster. This means the system can be retrofitted to the existing fleet of ferries around the world,” said Rolls-Royce Marine.

Scandinavian countries, including Denmark, Finland and Norway, have established autonomous operating zones within their national waters (which are outside of the IMO’s jurisdiction). These autonomous operating zones will allow innovative new systems to be tried and tested. The new vessels will be lighter than most ferries, because they will have no sleeping area for crew. They will operate year-round and, in some cases, like the Yara Birkeland, will replace highly polluting trucks, making roads safer as well as the atmosphere cleaner.