Wednesday, January 19, 2022

All Electric Autonomous Container Vessel Successfully Completes Maiden Voyage

Novel Safety Systems Aboard Craft as First Laden Trip Nears
Shipping News Feature

NORWAY – UK – Back in 2018 we wrote how the world's first electric and autonomous container vessel, the Yara Birkeland was being readied for service on the Herøya-Brevik route, and now real progress is being made as the vessel prepares to undertake its first ever laden voyage this year.

The 3,200 dwt, zero-emission ship has just completed its first annual service ahead of the trip to carry fertiliser after a successful maiden manned voyage in November. With safety on the all-electric vessel even more of a priority than usual, given that there may be no staff whatsoever aboard whilst sailing, an efficient and fool proof fire-fighting system was essential.

For this fertiliser firm Yara turned to UK headquartered Survitec to provide a unique, automatic and remotely operated fire system. This included a Novenco XFlow® water mist system for the vessel’s eight separate battery rooms; an Inergen fire extinguishing system for the switchboard rooms, pumps rooms, control rooms and electrical spaces; and an NFF XFlow® Deluge system for the cargo holds, open decks, superstructure and other compartments.

A wide range of standalone fire safety and life-saving equipment, including flares, radios, breathing apparatus, immersion suits and lifejackets, also passed the November inspection, causing Survitec Account Manager Andreas Dåsvatn to comment:

“The fire system aboard Yara Birkeland is ready for safe operations, with crews monitoring the system from a virtual bridge and machinery control room ashore. Typically, fire systems are built for manual operation, so we had to redesign the system for automatic activation based on the signals received from heat, flame and fire sensors located all around the vessel. The fire systems also had to send signals to seawater pumps, gas cylinders and valves, providing alerts to operators’ shoreside.

“This is just the beginning. As the industry starts to see these autonomous, alternatively fuelled vessels operating successfully and safely, demand will speed up. We predict more autonomous vessel projects over coming years. But in terms of ship safety, we’re already ahead of the curve.”

Extra fire safety features built into the ship included additional segregated fire zones and system redundancy. Drain valves have also been integrated into the system to allow for automatic opening and closing to prevent free-surface flooding. Mark Clegg, Managing Director, Survitec Fire Solutions, added that the entire system had to be rethought to facilitate independent activation from a virtual bridge and machinery control room on shore, explaining:

“This new approach meant we had to redesign the Novenco system for 60 minutes of operation rather than 30 minutes specified for conventional vessels. Moreover, since the vessel’s cargo holds are designed according to IMO MSC Circ.608 requirements (which normally requires a manual fire-fighting approach), the NFF XFlow Deluge nozzles had to be redesigned and sited for crewless operation.”

Survitec believes that working on the Norwegian vessel has put it in the vanguard for the design of safety systems for unmanned craft of the future and has in fact already led to a similar fire-fighting system currently being designed for a pair of 67 metre, fully autonomous ferries under construction at a yard in India.