Norway joins forces with European countries on autonomous ship operation

Norway has signed a new agreement with the UK, Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands to facilitate better cooperation on the international operation of autonomous vessels.

Courtesy of Reach Subsea

As explained, the agreement aims to simplify the operation of autonomous ships in the North Sea and ensure that they can operate safely within the individual countries’ national requirements and frameworks.

“This collaboration can help to establish a new international market for the Norwegian maritime industry. The Norwegian maritime industry is far ahead in the development of autonomous solutions. The collaboration will create an arena for further developing efficient and safe solutions for autonomous operation, and will be able to play an important role for our maritime companies in the years to come,” Marianne Sivertsen Næss, Norway’s Fisheries and Oceans Minister, commented.

The Norwegian Maritime Authority sees the agreement as a good framework for common technical standards and solutions.

“The collaboration agreement is important to us for several reasons. Firstly, we want to ensure that Norway is at the forefront when it comes to new technology in the maritime industry. In addition, Norway is a major maritime power, and then the cooperation with other flag states with great weight, such as Great Britain and Belgium, is an advantage. This is about the shipping of the future, and when several major shipping nations come together to facilitate and simplify the operation of autonomous ships, predictability also becomes greater for the maritime industry,” Alf Tore Sørheim, Acting Director General of Shipping and Navigation at the Norwegian Maritime Authority, said.

The five countries will exchange knowledge and information on national activities and follow a common approach to international maritime autonomous surface ships (MASS) operations where appropriate.

The agreement concerns cooperation on requirements to be placed on autonomous ships operating in the North Sea basin, i.e. outside national waters, so that the countries can agree on common technical standards and solutions for the ships pending international regulations.

So far, projects and initiatives have been focused on vessels within national territorial waters. Several ongoing projects now assess market opportunities in the North Sea basin. The development is particularly driven by existing and expected expansions in the field of offshore wind and the development of vessels and operating concepts for their inspection and maintenance.

The agreement is based on existing guidelines from the UN Maritime OrganiZation (IMO) and the EU. The IMO has initiated work to develop non-binding rules for autonomous cargo ships. These are expected to be completed by 2025.

Norwegian subsea services provider Reach Subsea has welcomed the new agreement as the company prepares to launch its first uncrewed vessels.

“I am thrilled to learn that Norway has made a crucial advancement in enabling autonomous ships to operate in our local shared waters. This development comes at the perfect time for the planned launch of our first two 24-meter uncrewed ROV vessels this year and holds significant importance for the maritime industry in Norway,” Bjørg Mathisen Døving, VP Reach Remote at Reach Subsea, stated.

Reach Subsea’s two unmanned surface vessels (USVs) named Reach Remote 1 and 2 were recently launched at the yard in Trosvik, Norway. Under the Norwegian flag, these vessels are expected to revolutionize offshore subsea operations, aligning with sustainability initiatives.

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The Reach Remote USVs will be uncrewed from day 1, and the Masters of Massterly, a collaborative venture between Kongsberg and Wilhelmsen, is contracted by Reach Subsea to take charge of maneuvering the USVs and control their remote & autonomous control systems.

Massterly AS, established in 2018 is already operating Yara Birkeland, ASKO Marit & ASKO Therese. Massterly aims to leverage the advantages of reduced operational costs and increased safety and efficiency by promoting uncrewed shipping solutions. Its initiatives support the transition towards more sustainable and technologically advanced maritime operations.

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In related news, Norway-based HAV Design was recently selected to design and develop four newbuild autonomous battery-powered zero-emission ferries for compatriot Fjord1. Described as the world’s first, the ferries will operate the Lavik-Oppedal crossing on the northwest coast of Norway.

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