Singapore maritime technology scientist says tugs will need to be adapted early in the next decade to handle ships with more advanced levels of autonomous operations
Technology Centre for Offshore and Marine, Singapore (TCOMS) scientist Kie Hian Chua predicts ships with autonomous technologies could be calling at ports as soon as 2021. This may include automated berthing and autonomous cargo handling systems.
“Tugs are an integral part of port operations as the interface with ships coming into port and ports business,” Mr Chua said at Riviera Maritime Media’s Smart Tug Operations Conference in Singapore on 16 September. “Any changes in ship technology and shore operations will have to be adopted by tugs.”
He anticipates the varying levels of autonomous maritime operations means tug owners will need to adapt to ships with different automatic mooring systems on board.
“Upgrades are needed for the immediate future as the impact on tugs will need to be addressed,” he said.
“Any shift in how ships are operated will affect tugs, such as automooring, which will affect how tugs bring a ship alongside.”
Tugs will also need upgrading for the next generation of port operations.
Mr Chua thinks this will include smart port operations, e-navigation, vessel traffic management, just-in-time delivery and vessel arrivals.
Mariners will also need retraining to operate a new generation of smarter tugs. “Seafarers will need to be competent in both cyber and marine environments,” said Mr Chua.
“There will be remapping of human tasks and responsibilities.” He thinks there will be changes in compliance and liabilities when tugs are required to assist ships with onboard autonomous sub-systems.
He anticipates changes in the roles of pilots and tug masters. While artificial intelligence will provide more information to assist masters, skilled seafarers of the future will increasingly need competence in IT, virtual working and remote-control operations skills.
Existing autonomous technology
ST Engineering Electronics system engineering director for unmanned maritime systems, Chee Wai Chan, said some aspects of tug operations can be automated, such as transiting to a towage job. But other operations, such as approaching a ship and push-pull configurations, will need further development and testing.
But, technology can be installed on tugs as a retrofit kit to enable unmanned transit between ports and assisted ships.
ST Engineering Electronics will test autonomous and remote-control technology for collision detection and avoidance on various vessels including tugs.
“Our automated collision detection and avoidance system is used to convert a manned vessel to an unmanned craft,” said Mr Chan. “It can operate on a vessel in advisory mode, semi-autonomous or fully autonomous modes.”
ST Engineering Electronics has developed an autonomous kit including a mast component, bridge electronics, onboard monitoring programme and onshore module.
Mr Chan explained at the conference how this system could be used on tugs for transiting from the dock to the assisted ship.
“The shore operator plans the waypoint navigation of the tug,” said Mr Chan. The master on the tug uses a tablet computer to monitor this planning and its application.
“Once the shore manager has planned the route he needs the agreement of the tug master before he can proceed,” said Mr Chan.
During the route, the tug master can compare targets on radar and AIS with what he sees at sea.
“If our onboard system detects a potential collision with a ship 500 m away, the system will show the avoidance manoeuvre on the tablet, so the tug master will know this is detected, compare it with his observations and see how the system intends to prevent the collision.”
The tug master has the ability to take over control when he needs to.
Mr Chan said future developments will focus on developing autonomous methods for approaching the ship, positioning and securing the tug, towing the ship and multi-tug berthing.