Automation is increasingly being seen in newbuild vessels, and tugs and workboats are no exception as the array of industry projects worldwide shows
Newbuild tugs have increasingly carried the Unattended Machinery Space (UMS) notation, denoting some degree of automated capacity, which leads to greater levels of automated operations.
A presentation given by shipbuilder Sanmar earlier this year shows remarkable growth in the number of vessels produced by the company that carry this notation. In 2014, Sanmar built 16 tugs, with six carrying the UMS notation and10 which did not. In 2015, 10 vessels carried the UMS notation and 11 did not, but in 2016, 2017 and 2018, vessels carrying the UMS notation have far outstripped those without, as can be seen in the below graphic.
However, as relatively unchartered territory, autonomous shipping regulation is a work in progress. IMO is reviewing legislation surrounding maritime autonomous surface ships (MASS) – the organisation’s current preferred nomenclature. An initial regulatory scoping exercise was completed during the 100th meeting of the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) in December 2018, which identified four distinct degrees of autonomy:
Interim guidelines were approved at the 101st session in June this year, recommending that trials be carried out in a way that provides at least the same degree of safety, security and protection of the environment as is provided by relevant instruments. The guidelines also recommend identifying associated risks and implementing measures to reduce these to a level as low and reasonably practicable and acceptable as possible.
During the 101st session, a working group met and agreed terms of reference for an intersessional working group to be held in September this year to continue the work, the first step of which – identifying provisions that apply to MASS in relevant treaties – is already under way.
However, the degrees of autonomy identified by IMO have met with some criticism for painting with too broad a brush. Bureau Veritas global technology leader for smart ships Najmeh Masoudi-Dionne says “We need more details at each degree, because a ship is a complex asset.”
“It is the job of each class society to adopt [IMO’s definition] and interpret it with the support of technology providers, and make sense of it.”
A key concern for vessel operators is safety, and Ms Masoudi-Dionne praises IMO for its recognition that a gap analysis must be undertaken to make SOLAS fit for purpose with increasing use of digital technologies. She also praises efforts by industry to work together to develop regulations and standards for autonomous shipping, citing her own organisation’s work – projects with technology providers such as Kongsberg and shipowners such as Bourbon Offshore – as examples.
The tug and workboat sector is home to a plethora of automation and remote control projects that show this spirit of collaboration.
Towage firm and Maersk subsidiary Svitzer has trialled remote control technology with Kongsberg (formerly Rolls-Royce) and classification society Lloyd’s Register on Svitzer Hermod, a harbour tug, in Copenhagen.
Svitzer Europe managing director Kasper Friis Nilaus spoke to TTB about the project. “The desire to pursue innovative ways to operate has led Svitzer to tap into the macro trend of autonomous technologies.”
“The autonomous agenda has been an integrated part of the car industry for many years, but over the years we have learned that implementing the technology entails large complexities.”
He thinks some of the technologies will be implemented in maritime industries as elements have in the car industry, such as using proximity sensors and self-docking.
“Using slices of the technology allows [ship operators] to enjoy the benefits of the technology while legislation and infrastructure adjust to the new reality,” he says.
“So, while many in our industry fixate on autonomy, towage in my opinion is likely to see many iterative improvements in coming years, as witnessed with the car industry.”
One of these will be technology that improves navigational safety through enhanced situational awareness in the wheelhouse.
“We think of innovation as something that impacts future decisions related to safety enhancements, as well as commercial and operational setups,” he says.
“We see innovation as an opportunity for creating real business advantage and as a means to differentiate services.”
For example, adopting situational awareness technology increases safety at sea. “The technology allows the captain to safely navigate the challenges of fog or adverse weather, reducing the risk exposure tremendously,” says Mr Nilaus.
Incremental developments along the voyage towards autonomous shipping will produce further improvements in intelligent navigation technology.
“The message is clear: empirical innovation is not an all-or-nothing process,” says Mr Nilaus. “There are meaningful improvements to be realised across our entire industry, be those for safety, environmental improvements, new services or operational efficiency.”
He thinks remote control and autonomous innovations tested now “will create a more intelligent, integrated industry” that is “working smarter and complying with customer demands” and adapting to future challenges.
Svitzer, with its partners, continues to test technologies for remote control operations. Trials over the last 18 months include more sensor input, such as engine noise and vibrations, to provide extra information to remote control masters.
Mr Nilaus says a potential application for remote control technology on tugs is navigating a vessel between ports from the shore operations centre to rest crew so they are ready for an eight-hour shift when they arrive in port.
He thinks other towage companies and shipowners can identify similar applications in different shipping sectors.
“Instead of worrying about change on the horizon, operators have a chance to be inspired by these impending technology shifts,” says Mr Nilaus.
He says Svitzer continues to see opportunities for proactive collaboration with partners across the industry and the world. “Towage operators have unique opportunities to proactively lead change” because of the type of vessels they operate.
“To fully realise the operational and commercial benefits for towage, our industry must be prepared to actively play our part as the wider maritime industry advances in new directions,” Mr Nilaus concludes.
Dutch remote-control tug trial wins award
A remote-controlled tug trial beat off stiff competition to win this year’s Marine Propulsion Autonomous & Remote Operations Award, which featured several projects in the tug sector among its nominees.
Kotug International was given the award, which was sponsored by Yara Marine Technologies, for its remote control trial on Tug Training & Consultancy’s 15-m training Rotortug RT Borkum. The long range of the test and its importance for further developing remote control technology was noted by the judges’ panel.
Currently undergoing trials in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, Kotug has previously demonstrated remote control of the tug Borkum from more than 1,000 km. In 2018, Borkum was controlled from a 360˚ bridge simulator in Marseille, France, while operating in Rotterdam. In later trials, this tug was controlled from a simulator at Kotug’s Tug Training & Consultancy’s centre in the Netherlands.
“The purpose of this project is to gain knowledge in creating situational awareness on a remote bridge,” says Kotug manager for fleet performance and innovation Koos Smoor. “Development and testing are ongoing with our focus on being able to remotely control a fire-fighting tug.”
Kotug uses real-time sensor technology to monitor the position and surroundings, which provides the remote-control captain with the situational awareness needed for safely operating the training tug.
Singapore invests in remote-control vessel technology
Singapore’s Maritime and Port Authority (MPA) is working with Keppel Offshore & Marine (O&M)’s subsidiary Keppel Singmarine to produce an autonomous tug operated by Keppel Smit Towage.
This is part of a wider programme to develop autonomous vessels for harbour operations such as channelling, berthing, mooring and towing. Keppel O&M is working with the Technology Centre for Offshore and Marine, Singapore (TCOMS), on this project.
Keppel O&M will upgrade an existing tug, which has 52 tonnes of bollard pull, by retrofitting bridge systems with collision detection and avoidance, digital pilot vision and position manoeuvring devices.
An onshore command centre will be built to remotely control the tug through integration and connectivity with onboard positioning and manoeuvring systems.
Keppel O&M’s technology arm, Keppel Marine and Deepwater Technology, will co-operate with MPA and TCOMS to develop technologies and system integration for the autonomous solutions.
Classification society ABS will provide approvals-in-principle for the technical features, such as remote navigation control and autonomous control systems.
Keppel O&M will use M1’s low latency 4.5G network connectivity to transfer data between the test tug and the shore centre.
In a separate project, PSA Marine is working with Wärtsilä on the IntelliTug project to test technical systems that can assist masters in collision detection and avoidance, and virtual anchoring with enhanced situational awareness at night and in complex conditions.
The first trials will be conducted on PSA Polaris, a Robert Allan-designed harbour tug built by Cheoy Lee Shipyard to operate in the Pasir Panjang container terminals.
Wärtsilä Voyage Solutions is creating a digital simulation of PSA Polaris in Singapore, which will be used to test capabilities in both real-life recorded situations and imagined scenarios.
Wärtsilä’s dynamic positioning team will install an advanced marine-grade sensor suite and joystick manoeuvring system on the tug.
These are integrated in a human-centric smart navigation module that provides collision avoidance advice and navigation support during tugboat transit and when at anchorage. Teams on the digital simulator will access this information and control the joystick.
Smart navigation information is intended to assist tug masters in daily operations around busy terminals and the crowded waters around Singapore’s ports. The project is a testbed of these technologies, combining Wärtsilä’s systems with PSA masters’ tug operating experience.
PSA Marine head of fleet management Bernard Wong says tug masters will maintain control, with additional information and advice from IntelliTug. “There are many instances in towage operations where we feel the tug master is still very much needed,” he says. “They rely a lot on their skills and the training provided, and even their instincts. But we believe more can be done to aid tug masters in their day-to-day work.”
This will include the ability to “fuse sensor data and incorporate it into a human-centric interface that will allow tug masters to digest and make sense of all the information more easily.”
IntelliTug is also a testbed for smart navigation regulations, with the MPA using data and lessons from the project for developing the appropriate regulatory framework. Lloyd’s Register is providing expertise and insights to ensure potential technology risks are identified, managed and mitigated.
After completing installations, the next step in the project is testing the technology with the tug’s capabilities in a virtual environment before releasing it into the testbed.
Wärtsilä conducted user-tests during Q3 2019 with a tug simulator and plans to implement the third stage of IntelliTug, testing on PSA Polaris in Singapore.
Smart Tug Operations Conference will be held in Singapore on 16 September 2019