The world's first autonomous cargo ship will launch next year

Marco Green
July 24, 2017

The Yara Birkeland, as the vessel is called, is already under development and its construction is scheduled to be completed in late 2018, when it will start to carry fertilizer from a production facility to the port of Larvik, a 37-mile route. However, since it doesn't require crew or fuel, the annual operating costs will be quite low and thus lead to enormous savings in the long run.

Like self-driving vehicles before it, the autonomous cargo ship will not be fully autonomous at launch, with an initial testing stage that includes traditional staff overseeing the ship in a dedicated cargo container. "As a leading global fertilizer company with a mission to feed the world and protect the planet", says Svein Tore Holsether, President and CEO of YARA in a press statement,"investing in this zero emission vessel to transport our crop nutrition solutions fits our strategy well".

The Birkeland is being jointly developed by agriculture firm Yara International ASA and Kongsberg Gruppen AS A, which builds guidance systems for civilian and military uses.

Yara said its new vessel will also cut emissions.

Petter Ostbo, Yara's head of production who leads the project, said the company would look to invest in bigger ships and use them for longer routes once worldwide regulations are in place for crewless vessels.

The Birkeland's first voyages in 2018 will have manned crews, with the hopes that they will be able to work through any kinks. Around 2020, according to the plan, the technology will be trusted enough to operate the vessel by itself. Eventually, the container will be moved ashore, and the ship will be remotely operated. "There is a lot of interest from operators of coastal tankers, fish-transport vessels and supply ships that are knocking on our door".

The International Maritime Organisation expects it to be 2020 before legislation is in place to cover autonomous shipping.

As previously mentioned, this is going to be the world's first crewless, autonomous ship powered by electricity.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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