Dutch companies have developed the concept of an autonomous guard vessel that would undertake surveillance in and around an offshore windfarm
The future-oriented design was created by a consortium of companies facilitated by LISA, a community for maritime professionals. Companies involved in its design include C-Job Naval Architects, SeaZip Offshore Service, Sea Machines, Maritime Research Institute Netherlands and eL-Tec elektrotechniek BV. They used their combined expertise to develop a guard vessel that is a more sustainable alternative to manned vessels.
The novel design is smaller and lighter than most guard vessels used to protect offshore operations and should be significantly less expensive to operate, not least because crew are not required.
The autonomous vessel was designed for surveillance of offshore structures throughout their lifecycle, including windfarms, substation platforms and cable routes. The unmanned unit can continuously monitor marine traffic visually as well as by radar and using AIS data.
If a vessel approaches an asset, measures will be taken to secure the area to avoid collisions and potential damage to offshore infrastructure. The autonomous vessel would have the ability to communicate with other vessels, could safely navigate and be used to escort other vessels away from a site while recording video footage.
LISA founding partner Pelle de Jong said, “Guard vessels perform an essential job; however, it is not the most exciting one for crew. Combined with the fact that conventional guard vessels are mostly outdated and are not necessarily the most comfortable or sustainable, it can be difficult to find well-trained crew willing to do the job.
“Our group set out to improve upon the process of securing an offshore area while incorporating sustainable solutions and reducing costs. Utilising knowledge we have as a group and technology that is already available, we succeeded in creating a design which does this and more.”
Because the autonomous vessel does not have any crew, onboard accommodation can be eliminated. This means the vessel can be smaller and propulsion options such as batteries can be used.
Autonomous research lead at C-Job Naval Architects Rolph Hijdra said, “We are pleased we were able to develop a battery-powered design, ensuring that the autonomous guard vessel is free from harmful emissions.
The ship has solar panels which allow for continued navigation and communication in the event the batteries run out of power. Unlike many manned guard vessels, the AGV will continue to operate even in rough sea conditions.”
The vessel would recharge its batteries via a charging station. Charging could either be via a cable connection to onsite equipment – such as an offshore transformer platform – or could be generated locally using renewable fuels.
The consortium envisions an offshore site will need a number of autonomous guard vessels, which would take turns monitoring an area and recharging.
If human intervention is required, the vessel would be connected to a command centre which could control the unit remotely. All data collected by the unmanned vessel would be sent to the command centre.
The consortia behind the autonomous guard vessel anticipate that it would be capable of 12 hours of continuous operation and would require 174 kWh battery capacity.
The design they have developed is 11.7 m in length with a breadth of 2.07 m and maximum interception speed of 15 knots. It would have two independent drive lines for redundancy and unlimited communication range.