ASKO to build two autonomous vessels for Oslo fjord operations

Norwegian grocery distributor ASKO has agreed a deal with Kongsberg Maritime and Massterly, the autonomous shipping joint venture launched by Kongsberg and Wilhelmsen in 2018, to equip two new vessels with autonomous technology and manage their operations at sea. The fully electric ships aim to replace 2 million kilometres of truck transport, saving 5,000 tonnes of CO2 every year.

ASKO currently uses more than 800 trucks to transport its cargo each day, with road transport currently the only mode of transportation linking its warehouses on the western side of the Oslo fjord with its distribution centre on the eastern side. The two new RORO vessels are being constructed to replace these journeys with a zero-emission transport alternative.

“We have a clear ambition to be climate neutral and have set ambitious goals, including being a self-sufficient provider of clean energy and having 100% emission-free transport by 2026. These innovative ships are key to fulfilling that ambition and will form an essential component of a zero-emissions logistics chain linking our facilities,” said Kai Just Olsen, Director, ASKO Maritime.

“Fully electric trucks will take the cargo between the warehouses and the ports of Moss and Horten, and in shipments of 16 the trailers will be transported across the fjord on the battery-driven vessels. This solution is cost effective, sustainable and will remove trucks from a heavily trafficked road.”

The project has been supported to the tune of 119 million NOK (approx. US$13.5 million) by Norwegian government body ENOVA, which includes funding for the development of the port infrastructure required to host the autonomous ships.

The vessels will be equipped with the technology required for zero emission and unmanned operations by Kongsberg Maritime, while Massterly will manage ship operations from its shore-based Remote Operations Centre. The two vessels will initially operate with a reduced crew, before moving to unmanned voyages at a later date.

“The ASKO contract illustrates how Massterly is key in making autonomy a reality for short-sea shipping. We are proud to be the world’s first ship management company to operate unmanned vessels for commercial use,” said Thomas Wilhelmsen, CEO of Wilhelmsen Group.

“Now we are one step closer to our goal of enabling sustainable trade through cost effective, safe, and environmentally friendly logistics.”

Approval from the Norwegian Maritime Authorities (NMA) will be required before vessel operations can begin, which will only be granted once the Authorities are satisfied that a sufficient level of safety has been achieved with the technology.

This will involve a detailed risk assessment based on IMO 1455 guidelines with regards to equivalent and alternative designs, new technology, verification, and approval for operation. DNV GL will also support this process as an independent third party.

The vessels, due to be delivered early in 2022 from the state-owned Cochin Shipyard in India, have been designed by Norwegian vessel designer Naval Dynamics. The functionality enabling autonomous operation will be implemented and tested after arrival at the operational area in the Oslo fjord.

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Rob O'Dwyer

Rob is Chief Network Officer and one of the founders of Smart Maritime Network. He also serves as Chairman of the Smart Maritime Council. Rob has worked in the maritime technology sector since 2005, managing editorial for a range of leading publications in the transport and logistics sector. Get in touch by email by clicking here, or on LinkedIn by clicking here.

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