As developments in maritime autonomous surface ships (MASS) gather pace the latest contributor to the industry, Marinet from Russia is actively seeking container shipping lines to partner with, even as the group signed accords to work with companies on 20 vessels over the past two days.
In Moscow, two days ago, Marinet signed a Memorandum of Intention (MoI) to equip 10 cargo-passenger ships with autonomous navigation systems, with Sakhalin shipping company Morspetsservice and the developer of autonomous navigation systems Kronshtadt Technologies. A similar MoI was signed a day later in St. Petersburg with SeaEnergy and Kronshtadt Technologies to equip 10 more general cargo vessels.
These agreements come after Marinet had partnered with Rosmorport and Pola Group and is now engaged in the sea trials of a number of automated Sovcomflot vessels.
However, the general director of Marinet Alexander Pinskiy told Container News, that Russia has few container ships in its fleet but the company’s automated system is tailor made for box ships as they operate on regular routes and call at the same ports on a scheduled basis.
“Our goal is to have 100 automated vessels by 2023 under the flag of Russia, we will progress very quickly,” said Pinskiy.
News of the Marinet drive towards automation came as the EU unveiled its ambitious strategy for all transport modes within the EU that declared “automated mobility will be deployed at large scale”.
In fact the 25-page EU document is mainly aimed at decarbonisation, the EU acknowledged in the paper the role that digitalisation will play, “Artificial Intelligence (AI) is becoming essential for transport automation in all modes, with digital technologies and components at their core.”
The paper went on to say, “The Commission will support testing and experimentation facilities on AI for smart mobility under the Digital Europe Programme.”
With encouragement from the EU and a simplified system that is readily installed into virtually any ship, Marinet believe they have an early candidate for delivering highly automated vessel operations.
Pinskiy is a former Transas employee, before the technology company was sold to Wärtsilä, said there are two pillars of work that the company is developing, the regulations must be adapted to accommodate MASS, while the second strand requires the technological developments in place to operate the ships safely.
Technologically Pinskiy is a pragmatist, he believes that simplicity is key to the success. The automated technology works with an array of cameras, including infrared cameras, situated in strategic locations on the vessel that will allow remote operators to take control of the vessel if required. What is more at this stage the Marinet system requires a reduced crew onboard the vessel.
Fully automated operations require more sophisticated technology so the system architecture has combined standard navigational and operational devices with new technology and includes “mandatory traditional systems” such as navigation devices, actuators and engineering systems, signalling and communication systems along with automated systems on the engine and technical control, as well as auto pilot and speed pilot technology.
Additionally, modern Automated Navigation Systems (ANS) and an Optical Surveillance and Analysis Systems (OSA) will give eyes to the automated and remote-control operators, as well as a Remote-Control Centre, Internal CCTV with ‘smart’ functions and human interfaces to a-Nav systems on the bridge Bridge Advisor - capable of working as a decision support system during periods of manual control too.
Electronic devices, including the Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS), can be operated manually, automatically or via remote control. The system as a whole is cheap to install, at roughly US$250,000/vessel depending the vessel type, operational profile and bridge configurations, and in some use cases can rapidly find a return on investment. The system can operate with vessels caravanning through particular routes. For the Russian maritime sector this could mean a number of ships with a single crew member following a mother vessel, headed by an automated ice breaker. Alternatively, there could be a number of river vessels in convoy calling at ports loading and discharging containers.
In the first instance the industry, academic and Russian regulatory groups behind the Marinet system believe they can quickly prove the system works as vessels begin automated operations in Russian waters next year.
It had been hoped to discuss the details of the rules governing MASS at the recent Maritime Safety Committee of the International Maritime Organization in November, but the agenda was suspended at the virtual meeting until next year.
Nevertheless, Pinskiy believes that automated vessels will be given the regulatory green light by Russian authorities by January 2021, and that they will prove their value and that the technology works.
Marinet has the Russian maritime cluster behind the development including the Russian Register along with government interest.
“Current trials will convince shipping companies that our system is safe and cost effective, those trials are almost complete, they’re in the last stages. The final stages will be demonstration voyages, working automatically, by remote control or manually, monitored by crew, using several different ships in different geographies,” explained Pinskiy, “We are working very actively towards IMO approval,” he concluded.