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Kongsberg: Short-sea trades will lead autonomous shipping revolution

Hot on the heels from yesterday’s groundbreaking news that Norwegian fertilizer producer Yara International and compatriot maritime technology firm Kongsberg have formed a partnership to build the world’s first autonomous and zero emissions containership, Maritime CEO today interviews Geir Håøy, the Kongsberg CEO.

The landmark ship, to be named Yara Birkeland, will be the world’s first fully electric and autonomous container ship, with zero emissions. The ship is scheduled to commence operations in the second half of 2018, shipping products from Yara’s Porsgrunn production plant to Brevik and Larvik in Norway.

The vessel will initially operate as a manned vessel, moving to remote operation in 2019, and expected to be capable of performing fully autonomous operations from 2020.

Kongsberg is responsible for development and delivery of all key enabling technologies on Yara Birkeland including the sensors and integration required for remote and autonomous operations, in addition to the electric drive, battery and propulsion control systems.

Håøy believes the Yara Birkeland will be the first of many such groundbreaking ships, especially for the short-sea trades.

“Autonomous shipping will be sustainable both financially and environmentally,” Håøy tells Maritime CEO. “Within short-sea shipping we will probably see a transformation in the market both on the shipowner side and the way we shift goods from roads to sea,” he adds.

Importantly, in yesterday’s grand unveiling of the Yara Birkeland it was stressed that the ship could perform autonomously by 2020, not that it necessarily will for sure. This is not down to the project being ready, more a question of whether regulators will sanction such activity by then. In a poll carried on site which is set to close in four days, 84% of readers believe autonomous ship regulation will prove a bigger challenge than developing the required technology, a point of view Håøy firmly agrees with.

“I agree that regulations are a bigger challenge than technology. We will see bilateral agreements between states, before new international regulations are in place,” the Norwegian says.

This topic formed a cornerstone of the debate during last month’s future of shipping session at the Maritime CEO Forum in Singapore where one panellist suggested the International Maritime Organization was likely to be “dead and buried” if it failed to keep up with all the technological changes sweeping through shipping.

Nevertheless, regardless of the regulators Håøy is proud to be at the forefront of the maritime digitisation revolution.

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