Monday, November 23, 2020

Latest Generation Robotic Ocean Vessels Prepare for Fully Autonomous Operations

New Builds are Double the Length of Existing Fleet
Shipping News Feature

US – UK – NORWAY – VIETNAM – Ocean Infinity, the robotics outfit which deploys autonomous ships and equipment in maritime situations, is to considerably expand its fleet with the production of eight 78-metre long, optionally crewed robotic vessels.

The company, with offices in Austin, Texas and Fareham, Hampshire, has signed a contract for the fuel-efficient, onshore-controlled vessels which will initially only utilise a skeleton crew on board. In due course the intention is that they will be capable of working with no personnel offshore whilst also consuming solely renewable fuel such as ammonia.

The 78-metre vessels will supplement the current Armada fleet of nine 21-metre and 36-metre vessels, which are already in production and expected to operational by early 2021. The first 78-metre vessel is expected to launch in mid-2022. Oliver Plunkett, CEO, Ocean Infinity, commented:

“The impact and the scale of this robotic fleet will spark the biggest transformation the maritime industry has seen since sail gave way to steam. With our new fleet we will be able to provide sustainable services to all corners of the industry from offshore energy, to logistics and transport.

“We, as an industry, have to embrace the need to be carbon neutral. It is not, however, something that will be achieved overnight or indeed in a year, rather it will be a journey over time requiring bold leaps forward and challenge to all convention. This move is a giant step forward towards that goal.

“Expanding our Armada fleet to include these larger vessels will enable us to support a wider spectrum of maritime activity, which from the outset will provide more sustainable outcomes with smaller crews and less power consumption than traditional vessels, whilst also creating new, safer job opportunities for the ‘seafarer of the future’.”

The vessels are being designed and built by VARD, the international shipbuilding group headquartered in Norway. Alberto Maestrini, CEO, VARD, said:

“We are honoured to be chosen as Ocean Infinity’s preferred partner in this unique project. We are working closely on unique custom design features and system integration allowing for remote operation, and the introduction of sustainable fuel such as green ammonia in close cooperation with regulatory bodies.

”Other features including high DP2 performance, vast deck space, and twin *moon pools make the vessels ideally suited for various extended payload operations requiring precision such as ROV and AUV deployments and logistics.”

VARD has designed the vessels for an ultra-low carbon footprint and they are among the first vessels to be prepared for green ammonia as a fuel with fuel cell and battery technology. Furthermore, the vessels will provide safe launch and recovery platforms for ROVs and other robotic systems through the two large moon pools arranged with VARD’s damping system.

Vard Electro has further developed its SeaQ Integrated Automation System and SeaQ Power Management System together with the class society to allow for safe remote operations and, most importantly, cyber-secure communication. By utilising its long experience as a system integrator, Vard Electro says it will deliver a complete electrical systems package from engineering through installation, integration, and commissioning.

A broad range of suppliers and contractors in the Norwegian Maritime Cluster are involved in the project and it creates a considerable positive spin-off effect in the region, whilst the series of eight vessels will be built at VARD’s shipyard Vard Vung Tau in Vietnam, scheduled for deliveries in the period from mid-2022 to end-2023. Ove Bjørneset, VP Research and Innovation in VARD, observed:

“With a high focus in the design process of making the vessels energy efficient, the vessels are equipped with highly optimised hull forms, propellers, and engine arrangements. The vessels are inherently developed for safe and secure prolonged missions with a redundant mind set, like split engine and propulsion rooms, redundant cooling systems, sensor systems, automation and power management systems, navigation and communication systems.”

(*a moon pool, also known as a ‘wet hatch’ gives access to the water directly from a surface based craft).

Photo: An artist’s impression of one of the new 78 metre vessels.