Autonomous ships offer a number of advantages over human-driven vessels, where a major topic is a promise of improved safety. Human-error accidents are all too common and costly. For example, take a look at the collision off the coast of Corsica on Octorber 7, 2018, when the ferry Ulysses departed from the port of Genoa and cruised through the Mediterrean Sea. As the captain received a phone call just before dawn, he stepped away from the station. Moments later, the Ulysse rammed into the side of a container ship, CSL Virginia, resulting in a massive oil spill. The damages were estimated at 13.5 million euros, with cleanup costs estimated at 10 million euros.
Another major topic is the possibility of zero emission transport. By 2020 Yara expects to launch the world’s first fully electric and autonomous container ship, with zero emissions. With this vessel, Yara will reduce diesel-powered truck haulage by 40,000 journeys a year!
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Today’s autonomous ships take many forms. Last year, in the Norwegian town of Sunde, the Finnish company Wärtsila demonstrated an autodocking system on a coastal ferry whose captain cautiously took his hands off the steering as his ship glided into the quay. In the same year Rolls-Royce was the first to demonstrate a driverless system for a commercial container ship, which bodes well as they currently are signed up for delivering 18 autonomous ferries to the two Norwegian ferry companies, Fjord 1 and Fosen Namsos Sjø.
Commercial shipping giants like Nippon Yusen are also beginning to send autonomous ships to sea. Nippon Yusen, Japan’s largest marine shipping company, told Bloomberg that it planned to test a remote-controlled vessel across the Pacific Ocean in 2019 as it pursues fully autonomous technology.
However it is the previously mentioned Yara Birkeland that is looking promising. likely to be the first fully autonomous operational vessel. With the driverless system being provided by shipping giant Kongsberg, the 260-foot container ship pursues the title of the world’s first fully operational autonomous vessel.
According to the United Nations, 90 percent of the world’s trade is carried by sea and 10.3 billion tons of products were shipped in 2016, where the world’s 300 or so deep-sea shipping companies have a combined revenue of $10 billion.
According to Allianz Global Corporate & Speciality, human errors account for between 75 and 96 percent of all shipping accidents, with human error resulting in more than $1.6 billion in losses between 2011 and 2016.