Norway finds a new autonomous shipping champion

With one landmark Norwegian autonomous shipping project hitting the skids this year, a new pioneering maritime vision has emerged from the Scandinavian nation in the shape of a futuristic looking roro.

When the decision was taken in May to put the Yara Birkeland containership project on hold, European proponents of autonomous shipping were aghast, looking on as rivals in East Asia advanced their own autonomous shipping ambitions.

Now, however, another Norwegian firm, ASKO, a grocery distributor, has stepped in to try its hand at revolutionising the world of shipping.

Now however another Norwegian firm, ASKO, a grocery distributor, has stepped in to try its hand at revolutionising the world of shipping.

This solution is cost effective, sustainable and will remove trucks from a heavily trafficked road

ASKO has signed with Norway’s Kongsberg Maritime and Massterly – a Kongsberg Wilhelmsen joint venture – to equip two new vessels with autonomous technology, and to manage their operations at sea.

The fully electric ships will replace 2m km of truck transport, saving 5,000 tonnes of CO2 every year, the partners in the project claim.

ASKO – currently transporting their cargo by more than 800 trucks daily – is investing heavily in new technologies such as electric and hydrogen-powered vehicles. At present, road transport is the single mode of transportation to link their warehouses on the western side of the Oslo fjord with their distribution centre on the eastern side. The new roros will replace the current solution with a zero emission transport alternative.

“We have a clear ambition to be climate neutral and have set ambitious goals, including being a self-sufficient provider of clean energy and having 100% emission-free transport by 2026. These innovative ships are key to fulfilling that ambition and will form an essential component of a zero-emissions logistics chain linking our facilities,” said Kai Just Olsen, director, ASKO Maritime. “Fully electric trucks will take the cargo between the warehouses and the ports of Moss and Horten, and in shipments of 16 the trailers will be transported across the fjord on the battery-driven vessels. This solution is cost effective, sustainable and will remove trucks from a heavily trafficked road.”

The Norwegian state is also helping fund the project as part of its commitment to reduce emissions and transfer transport from road to sea where feasible.

The vessels will be equipped with the technology required for zero emissions and unmanned operation by Kongsberg Maritime, while Massterly will ensure shipmanagement and safe operations from their shore-based Remote Operations Centre. The two vessels will initially operate with a reduced crew, before moving towards unmanned voyages.

Thomas Wilhelmsen, CEO of Wilhelmsen Group, commented: “The ASKO contract illustrates how Massterly is key in making autonomy a reality for short-sea shipping. We are proud to be the world’s first shipmanagement company to operate unmanned vessels for commercial use. Now we are one step closer to our goal of enabling sustainable trade: through cost effective, safe, and environmentally friendly logistics.”

The vessels, which are due to be delivered early in 2022, have been designed by Norwegian vessel designer Naval Dynamics and will be constructed at the state-owned Cochin Shipyard in India. The functionality enabling autonomous operation will be implemented and tested after arrival in the operational area in the Oslo fjord.

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.


  1. If Wilhelmsen no longer wishes to take personal care of its employees, they dig their own grave!

    1. Dear Capetan Manolis. Wilhelmsen takes excellent care of their highly valued employees and seafarers. These small vessels being constructed for ASKO are an alternative to truck transport on land and they will create more jobs in the maritime sector.

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