English oysters and Belgian beer carried in landmark autonomous shipping trials

A box of oysters delivered to Belgian clients earlier this week marks another landmark moment on the voyage towards autonomous shipping.

The shipment of seafood went across the busy English Channel leaving on Monday night from the UK county of Essex to Oostende onboard a 12 m long unmanned surface vessel developed by a British firm called SEA-KIT International. The voyage took 22 hours.

Yesterday the boat made its return journey carrying a cargo of Belgian beer. The vessel, called SEA-KIT USV Maxlimer, has a payload capacity of 2.5 tonnes.

The creators of this new vessel claim it can be scaled up in size.

Ben Simpson of SEA-KIT International commented: “SEA-KIT is a fundamentally versatile model. Its potential lies in its ability to be adapted to a range of tasks, whether it be transit, hydrographic surveys, environmental missions, or marine safety and security. We’re tremendously excited to push the technology to its limits and see what we can achieve.”

On a significantly larger scale, the Yara Birkeland, the world’s first autonomous and electric container vessel, is due to be delivered from Scandinavian yard Vard early next year. The vessel will initially be manned, with 2022 targeted for fully autonomous operations.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.
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