MOL and Japanese partners complete unmanned container ship tests

A Japanese consortium led by Mitsui O.S.K. Lines (MOL) reports that it has concluded the world’s first sea trial of unmanned operation of a container vessel, from Tsuruga Port in Fukui Prefecture to Sakai Port in Tottori Prefecture.

The trial was part of The Nippon Foundation’s wider MEGURI2040 unmanned ship project, which  also completed trials of an autonomous ferry navigation system earlier this month with another consortium of partners.

The unmanned container ship Mikage for the MOL trial followed a previously formulated route using a specially developed autonomous ship operation control system, able to accurately track ship location information and react to external elements such as wind and tides/currents.

Data on other entities in the water on the set route was gathered by technology developed by consortium partner Furuno, which measured and displayed positions, speed, types of nearby ships, and the location of obstacles by integrating information gained from radar, AIS, and camera images.

Based on the integrated information, the ship navigated the route formulated by the autonomous collision avoidance routing system safely, the partners said.

The ship berthed and unberthed using information from Furuno berthing/unberthing support sensors, which calculate and visually display relative distances and relative angles between the pier and hull.

The project also featured an automated mooring system using drones. Typically, a crewmember on a ship will pass the heaving line to moor the vessel in port by throwing it to a worker on the pier. In this sea trial, an automatic flight drone developed by A.L.I. Technologies carried the line to the pier instead.

The consortium plans to follow on from these tests with a sea trial of its autonomous navigation systems on the coastal car ferry Sunflower Shiretoko in February, to assess its use on a vessel with different characteristics from the coastal containership.

In related news, MOL has also announced that it will roll out a new digital navigation risk monitoring system on more than 700 ships, following a joint development project with ClassNK and its maritime software subsidiary NAPA.

The system will be used to increase safety across MOL’s fleet by proactively predicting the risk of grounding based on operational parameters, and alerting shoreside teams of potential problems. It is based on NAPA’s cloud-based monitoring platform, NAPA Fleet Intelligence, which combines data sources such as position, sea depth, and navigational charts with data on typical operational patterns to monitor risk.

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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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