Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Autonomous Vessel Tests in North Sea Point Out the Future of Maritime Operations

Successful Trials Using Small Wind Farm Support Vessel
Shipping News Feature
NETHERLANDS – WORLDWIDE – A unique series of autonomous operations trials, held in the North Sea on 19 and 20 March, about five nautical miles off the coast of Den Helder, Netherlands, saw the SeaZip 3, a small seagoing vessel intended for the maintenance of offshore wind farms and supplied by SeaZip Offshore Services, outfitted with collision avoidance technology, prior to taking part in several nautical scenarios to determine how the vessel would interact with seagoing traffic.

The trials are part of the Joint Industry Project Autonomous Shipping, a two-year research and innovation project started in 2017 focusing on the autonomous operations of seagoing vessels. Marnix Krikke, Innovation Director at Netherlands Maritime Technology (NMT) and Project Leader of the Joint Industry Project, observed:

“We are proud that our consortium of 17 partners established the first ever autonomous operations with seagoing vessels held at the North Sea. A total of 11 scenarios were run in which SeaZip 3 interacted with two other vessels, Octans, a training vessel of the Maritime Institute Willem Barentsz and Guardian, an Emergency Towage Vessel operated by The Netherlands Coastguard.

“These scenarios are the outcome of research by Technical University of Delft, MARIN and TNO. The scenarios were first tested in the MARIN simulator centre in Wageningen and now, last week, in a real-life environment on the North Sea.”

By testing the various scenarios in real marine conditions the partners involved were able to show the decision-making process of an autonomous system in ensuring safe sailing and avoiding collisions with other vessels. The autonomous system provided by Robosys Automation, connected to the on-board autopilot and machinery control system, performed the evasive manoeuvres in a safe manner. It was concluded that further development of autonomous systems will be needed however to cope with complex marine traffic situations in a more efficient way.

The demonstration provides input for an autonomous shipping roadmap which will define the lessons learned and the obstacles, technology and potential as well as the steps to be taken towards further realisation. The roadmap will guide development of technology within the Netherlands maritime industry, the knowledge institutions, the academia and the government. These include not only technical issues, but also those in the regulatory field and aspects such as risk management. Mark van der Star, Managing Partner at SeaZip Offshore Service, says that the impact of autonomous shipping and the possibilities it offers are enormous, commenting:

“We are continually busy with innovation at SeaZip Offshore Service and proud that our offshore service vessel SeaZip 3 is the first ship to carry out a fully autonomous test in the North Sea. Participating in this project has enhanced our knowledge in a wide range of fields and will help us grow further as a shipping company in the future.”