A fleet of up to 20 remotely operated electric-powered offshore support vessels could be built after a successful demonstration
SeaOwl intends to order a fleet of unmanned vessels for underwater inspection of offshore oil, gas and renewables infrastructure between 2023 and 2028 following completion of the Remotely Operated Service at Sea (ROSS) development project.
As part of the project, SeaOwl demonstrated the remote-control concept to strategic partners including French energy major Total, in early September.
Partners in the ROSS project intend to reduce the cost of offshore operations by remotely controlling a vessel from shore or another platform. This technology could also be used in the commercial maritime and military sectors.
Before constructing the first unmanned vessel, SeaOwl required regulatory acceptance to operate without crew on board. It worked closely with France’s Directorate of Maritime Affairs and class society Bureau Veritas to secure the navigation licence necessary for a demonstration voyage.
The demonstration involved an onshore centre remotely controlling SeaOwl’s 75-m anchor handling tug supply vessel VN Rebel, based in Toulon on the French south coast.
SeaOwl intends to build unmanned vessels for inspection, maintenance and repair of subsea systems, which could be remotely controlled from an offshore oil and gas production platform or a floating production storage and offloading (FPSO) unit.
“Unlike an autonomous vessel, the vessel’s crew will pilot the ship from land to achieve cost savings and minimise a range of operational risks for safer operations,” said SeaOwl chief executive Xavier Genin.
“There are already remote-controlled or autonomous military ships, but we are the first to obtain the ‘grey card’ which gives us permission to sail as a merchant navy vessel,” he said.
Total’s interest comes from its production assets in West Africa, including fixed installations in Gabon and deepwater FPSOs in Nigeria and Angola.
Networks of subsea wells, manifolds, flowlines and risers flow oil and gas from numerous wells on multiple fields in water depths of more than 1,000 m to these FPSO hubs. Connectivity between the control centre and the remotely operated vessel is vital for mission success.
Marlink’s smart network technology is enabling SeaOwl’s remotely operated vessel project. It provided a redundant and cyber-secure satellite communication system for this demonstration.
SeaOwl held several engineering workshops with Marlink to create a highly resilient and redundant connectivity and control system incorporating a Sealink VSAT system with three antennas, dual satellite feeds and dual below-deck equipment.
Marlink’s system features a customised dashboard interface for the ROSS system to monitor connectivity performance indicators including latency, jitter and throughput.
Bureau Veritas verified this connectivity was cyber secure, resilient and complied with statutory requirements for remotely operating a vessel.
SeaOwl’s next phase could see more testing of the remote control technology on VN Rebel and then an order for a new 20-25-m vessel with dynamic positioning, all-electric propulsion and a work-class remotely operated vehicle for subsea IMR missions.