Svitzer has teamed up with Kongsberg Maritime and class society ABS to develop the world’s first remotely controlled commercial tug
Together they intend to develop, order, equip and operate Recotug in the Port of Copenhagen, Denmark. This will be the first commercial tug built specifically to be remotely controlled, although the technology has been tested on existing tugs in the past.
Svitzer said it would provide the needed operational experience, a newly built tug, its crew, onshore team and tug-specific technical solutions. Kongsberg will provide the remote control and autonomous systems, based on technology such as dynamic positioning and sensor arrays, and will lead the integration of systems and technology.
ABS will bring the guidance and expertise necessary to obtain regulatory approval.
Recotug will use similar technology to that tested during Svitzer’s trials of remote tug operations on Sanmar-built Svitzer Hermod tug in the Port of Copenhagen in 2017/18. In that project, Svitzer partnered with Kongsberg Maritime (formerly Rolls-Royce Marine) to safely conduct several remotely controlled, non-towage specific manoeuvres.
Riviera Maritime Media witnessed a vessel master remotely control Svitzer Hermod from a centre in Svitzer’s offices on the quay side in Copenhagen harbour. From there, the vessel master berthed the tugboat alongside the quay, undocked, turned 360°, went for a sail and safely docked again.
Svitzer global chief operating officer Ingrid Uppelschoten Snelderwaard said this experience would enable autonomous operations on a commercial tug. “At Svitzer, we are determined to be at the forefront of the innovation in this space to ensure we are well positioned to meet changing demands,” she said.
“We will start with one tug and explore from there how to best leverage technology, improve safety and efficiency and meet our customer’s demand for reliable and cost-efficient services,” Ms Snelderwaard explained.
It will be a cautious programme of technology testing but could transform harbour operations in the future. “While we are still several years away from seeing remotely operated tugs with no crew on board in commercial operation, there is no doubt that advanced autonomy is progressing fast across the maritime industry,” said Ms Snelderwaard.
“Technology is changing our lives across the board and at Svitzer we want to influence and drive how technology will transform towage over time. Safety comes first, and this entire project is first and foremost relying on the implied safety case.”
The near-shore environment of harbour towage is well-suited for remotely controlling vessels as there would be sufficient connectivity over wireless communications.
Kongsberg Maritime president Egil Haugsdal said this important collaboration would drive technology adoption. “We are involved in several projects that define the remote and autonomous vessel control systems for tomorrow,” he said. “This venture takes that ground-breaking work a step further by integrating these key technologies into a new context of operation. The step forward represented by this project is of great importance in demonstrating the application.”
ABS chairman, president and chief executive Christopher Wiernicki emphasised the importance of maintaining safety in this project as remote control involves “moving away from the things you can see and touch, to things you cannot see, such as software and data” he said.
Class societies have helped develop the safety approaches that draw on their expertise as a technical integrator.
“Greater industry collaboration is going to be key to meeting the challenges of digitalisation and maritime sustainability,” said Mr Wiernicki. He expects Recotug will “genuinely break new ground for the entire industry” and shape the direction for the future.
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