A new period in unmanned marine technology has begun after an autonomous vessel demonstrated its oil spill response capabilities during harbour tests in the US
Trials organised by the US Department of Transportation Maritime Administration (MARAD) validated using autonomous vessels to recover spilled oil in ports.
Sea Machines Robotics used remote control systems on a Marine Spill Response Corp (MSRC) skimmer boat to demonstrate its capabilities during tests in Portland harbour in Maine, US.
These trials open a new era in using unmanned vessels to increase the safety, productivity and predictability of response during marine oil-spill operations.
“This is the future of the maritime industry,” said MARAD deputy administrator Richard Balzano. “It is safer, faster and more cost-effective.”
He thinks autonomous vessel applications will continue to develop and be adopted.
“This technology is here and it will make you a believer,” he said. “We are here because we want to help the maritime industry evolve. It is about safety, the environment and reducing risk on the water.”
Tests in Portland involved remotely controlling the world’s first autonomous spill response vessel, owned by MSRC and built by a collaboration between Vigor and Kvichak Marine Industries.
They were conducted before an audience of MARAD, government, naval, environmental and industry representatives from the US and international interests.
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.
Sea Machines demonstrated this vessel could perform the following capabilities:
Using this vessel in an unmanned autonomous mode reduces or eliminates seafarers’ exposure to challenging sea and weather, toxic fumes and other safety hazards, said MSRC vice president John Swift.
“MSRC is excited to work with Sea Machines on this new technology,” he said. “The safety of our personnel is the most important consideration in any response. Autonomous technology enhances safe operations.”
This validation exercise is another significant industry first for remote-commanded vessels, said Sea Machines founder and chief executive Michael Johnson. “We have proven our technology can be applied to the marine spill response industry to protect the health and lives of mariners responding to spills,” he said.
This demonstration followed a validation trial in August 2018 using Sea Machines’ SM300 product aboard the world’s first remote-controlled fireboat, owned by Tuco Marine, in Korsør, Denmark.
SM300 autonomous-command and computer-guided vessel control systems can be installed on newbuild commercial vessels or retrofitted to existing ones.
Sea Machines’ technology can also be used for advanced perception and navigation assistance on merchant ships. It is testing its perception and situational awareness technology aboard one of AP Moller-Maersk’s newbuild ice-class container ships.
MSRC is a not-for-profit, US Coast Guard-classified oil spill removal organisation. MSRC offers a full range of oil spill response capabilities intended to help meet the planning criteria of the US Oil Pollution Act of 1990.
The US Maritime Administration is an agency of the Department of Transportation and it works in many areas involving shipping, shipbuilding, port operations, vessel operations, national security, environment and safety.
Autonomous vessel and remote control technologies will be discussed at Riviera Maritime Media’s Smart Tug Operations Conference in Singapore, 16 September 2019