NMT: North Sea Hosts 1st Autonomous Shipping Tests

A series of autonomous operations trials were held in the North Sea, about five nautical miles off the coast of Den Helder, the Netherlands, on March 19 and 20.

The trials are part of the Joint Industry Project Autonomous Shipping, a two-year research & innovation project which started in 2017. The project is focused on autonomous operations of seagoing vessels.

We are proud that our consortium of 17 partners established the first ever autonomous operations with seagoing vessels held at the North Sea,” Marnix Krikke, innovation director at Netherlands Maritime Technology (NMT) and project leader of the Joint Industry Project, commented.

SeaZip 3, an offshore supply vessel from SeaZip Offshore Services, was outfitted with collision avoidance technology and took part in several nautical scenarios to determine how the vessel would interact with seagoing traffic.

“A total of 11 scenarios were run in which SeaZip 3 interacted with two other vessels, Octans, a training vessel of the Maritime Institute Willem Barentsz and Guardian, an Emergency Towage Vessel operated by The Netherlands Coastguard. These scenarios are the outcome of research by Technical University of Delft, MARIN and TNO. The scenarios were first tested in the MARIN simulator centre in Wageningen and now, last week, in a real-life environment on the North Sea,” Krikke added.

By testing the scenarios in the North Sea, the partners involved were able to show the decision-making process of an autonomous system in ensuring safe sailing and avoiding collisions with other vessels, according to NMT.

The autonomous system provided by Robosys Automation, connected to the onboard autopilot and machinery control system, performed the evasive maneuvers in a safe way. It was concluded that further development of autonomous systems is needed, to cope with complex marine traffic situations in a more efficient way.

Autonomous shipping roadmap

As explained, the demonstration provides input for an autonomous shipping roadmap which will define the lessons learned and the obstacles, technology and potential as well as the steps to be taken towards further realisation. The roadmap will guide development of technology within the Netherlands maritime industry, the knowledge institutions, the academia and the government. These include not only technical issues but also those in the regulatory field and aspects such as risk management.

Mark van der Star, managing partner at SeaZip Offshore Service, said that the impact of autonomous shipping and the possibilities it offers are enormous:

“We are continually busy with innovation at SeaZip Offshore Service and proud that our offshore service vessel SeaZip 3 is the first ship to carry out a fully autonomous test on the North Sea. Participating in this project has enhanced our knowledge in a wide range of fields and will help us grow further as a shipping company in the future.”

Broad consortium

This project is supported by a broad consortium of stakeholders including shipping companies SeaZip Offshore Service, Fugro, and the Dutch Pilotage organisation, Damen Shipyards and Feadship, naval architects DEKC Maritime, technology suppliers Bosch Rexroth, Robosys Automation, knowledge institutions MARIN, TNO, Technical University of Delft, classification society Bureau Veritas, maritime academies Maritime Institute Willem Barentsz – NHL Stenden University of Applied Sciences, Rotterdam Mainport Institute and project coordinator Netherlands Maritime Technology.

The Dutch government is represented by the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management and the Ministry of Defence. It is partly funded by the TKI-Maritiem allowance of the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy.