Autonomous and remote-controlled vessels are particularly well suited to oil spill response operations, removing risk to humans in tackling dangerous situations
Autonomous and remote-controlled vessels could be used for oil spill response to provide a faster and more effective solution. While trials in 2019 validated the technology for oil pollution recovery in a harbour, a key challenge for the future will be scaling up autonomous vessels to tackle larger offshore oil spills.
Trials organised by the US Department of Transportation Maritime Administration (MARAD) validated the use of autonomous vessels to recover spilled oil in ports in 2019.
Tests in Portland involved remotely controlling the world’s first autonomous spill response vessel, owned by Marine Spill Response Corp and built by a collaboration between Vigor and Kvichak Marine Industries. This used remote control technology supplied by Sea Machines Robotics.
MARAD deputy administrator Richard Balzano thinks this technology will deliver safe emergency response in the future. “It is safer, faster and more cost-effective,” he says, compared with manned vessels.
“This technology is here and it will make you a believer,” he says. “We are here because we want to help the maritime industry evolve. It is about safety, the environment and reducing risk on the water.”
During the trail in Q3 2019, a Sea Machines operator commanded an unmanned skimmer boat equipped with a SM300 autonomous-command system and a Marco filter belt skimmer to recover oil from the water’s surface.
Using this vessel in an unmanned autonomous mode reduces or eliminates seafarers’ exposure to challenging sea and weather, toxic fumes and other safety hazards, says MSRC vice president John Swift.
“MSRC is excited to work with Sea Machines on this new technology,” he says. “The safety of our personnel is the most important consideration in any response. Autonomous technology enhances safe operations.”
During the Portland tests, Sea Machines demonstrated the vessel could perform the following capabilities: remote autonomous control from an onshore location; electronic navigational chart-based mission planning; autonomous waypoint tracking; autonomous grid line tracking; collaborative autonomy for multi-vessel operations; and wireless, remote payload control to deploy onboard boom, skimmer belt and other response equipment.
MSRC as a not-for-profit US Coast Guard-classified organisation intends to conduct further tests and adopt remote control technology for future oil spill removal.
Sea Machines has partnered with builder Metal Shark to produce Sharktech autonomous vessels for patrol and pilot operations.
Sharktech Defiant aluminium monohull vessels are commanded from shore, or a second vessel, using SM300 controls within a 2-km range.
Local situational awareness is provided to the remote operator via streaming video, electronic navigational charts, radar, AIS information and live environmental and deck machinery condition feeds.
Sea Machines’ autonomous package also includes advanced mission planning, while routine software updates allow for system enhancements as additional refinements are made.
Patrol vessel upgrade for oil spill recovery
Swedish coastguard Kustbevakningen (KBV) is modifying a patrol vessel into an oil spill response and research ship in 2020 for ice operations. It has contracted Damen Oskarshamnsvarvet to upgrade vessel KBV 181 during April to December 2020.
The work involves the enlargement of decks and hull reconstruction to extend the vessel’s life by 15 years. KBV requires the vessel to recover oil in ice as it patrols and conducts research in the Gulf of Bothnia.
Damen will extend the aft deck area of KBV 181 and reconstruct the waterline to maintain the vessel’s ability to manoeuvre in ice.
A new bulwark will be fitted, including a transom door that will fold outwards to become an additional deck extension, able to support oil recovery equipment. This will include booms and skimmers designed for recovering oil from sea water and ice.
Damen will remove bulkheads from the main deck to accommodate a new research laboratory that will be operated Umeå University. It will install a unit for continual water sampling and analysis for the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute.
Damen will also install a new 90-tonne crane and replace the existing cranes on KBV 181.
It will modernise the vessel’s bridge by replacing all communications and navigation equipment and install close circuit TV cameras around the vessel for monitoring from the bridge.
Damen will also refurbish accommodation areas, renew HVAC equipment and reduce noise and vibrations throughout the vessel.