China’s first autonomous container ship will enter service in October 2021. The 300TEU Zhi Fei will be deployed by the state-owned Shandong Port Shipping Group to shuttle between Qingdao’s main port and the latter’s sub-port, Dongjiakou.
Zhi Fei is the first container ship serving China’s inland waterways to meet the criteria of unmanned autonomous navigation tests.
China began its push towards autonomous vessels in March 2019, when the Ministry of Transport approved research and development into smart navigation and integrated transport. Maritime nations are keen on autonomous navigation as a means to reducing maritime accidents and resolving a shortage of seafarers.
Construction of the Zhi Fei was assigned to Yangfan Group’s Qingdao shipyard, the vessel design was undertaken by Navigation Brilliance Technology, Shanghai Bestway Marine Engineering Design, Shanghai Marine Equipment Research Institute, Dalian Maritime University and the China Waterborne Transport Research Institute.
Vessel construction was completed in June 2021 and sea trials were conducted later that month.
The ship is fitted with intelligent navigation and advanced environmentally-friendly solutions that reduce emissions and noise, including an electric propulsion system.
Zhi Fei is 117 metres long and 15 metres wide with a maximum sailing speed of 12 knots.
Operating the Zhi Fei will be an experiment for the future development of unmanned navigation in China.
Besides autonomous navigation, the Ministry of Transport will experiment with installing ship-to-shore mobile communication network on the vessel, smart pilotage, and unmanned dispatch and management of container cargoes.