China has made great strides in testing and developing autonomous vessel technology with an industry-first and plans to build unmanned ships
China has reached a significant milestone in autonomous shipping with the nation’s first unmanned cargo ship completing a test voyage. This was followed in December 2019 by the first order for an autonomous container ship and further plans for a fleet of unmanned cargo ships.
Zhuhai-based technology group Yunzhou Tech completed a trial of autonomous cargo ship Jin Dou Yun 0 Hao on 15 December. This 12.9-m vessel carried a cargo from Dong Ao island, Guandong province to a pier of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao bridge.
It was operated by automatic navigation technology and remote control and powered from an electrical plant.
This followed several earlier remote control and autonomous navigation tests during November and December 2019.
Yunzhou Tech said the vessel is designed to run at 8 knots and would be 20% cheaper to construct than manned ships of this size. This project was developed in collaboration with Wuhan University of Technology and China Classification Society.
Jin Dou Yun 0 Hao is seen as a platform for advancing the technological progress and industrial development of intelligent ships in China. Yunzhou Tech said it would further test this vessel and look for commercial operators and applications.
Also in December, Qingdao-based smart ship technology group Navigation Brilliance contracted Yangfan Shipbuilding’s Qingdao Shipyard to construct a small autonomous container ship.
This vessel, to be named Zhi Fei, will be built during 2020 and 2021 with a planned capacity of 300 TEU. It will undertake shortsea operations from Q3 2021.
Zhi Fei is being developed by Navigation Brilliance in conjunction with Dalian Maritime University and China Waterborne Transport Research Institute.
Navigation Brilliance has previously conducted autonomous trials with small vessel Zhi Teng to test its navigation technology and intends to order larger autonomous container ships of 500 TEU and 800 TEU if Zhi Fei is a success.
Yunzhou Tech has also partnered with Zhuhai Port Shipping to develop unmanned cargo ships, which could lead to more shipyard orders this decade.
Zhuhai Port plans to expand its river and coastal cargo transportation fleet after raising around US$145M in May 2019. It intends to spend this cash on fleet of more than 50 vessels, including newbuildings and potentially autonomous vessels.
In December, Zhuhai Port ordered 19 manned and multipurpose river cargo ships of around 3,500 dwt each from Hainan Kaihong Shipyard. These ships will be employed to transport bulk cargo in the domestic river and coastal regions.
Yunzhou Tech is focused on developing unmanned surface vessels for environment sampling and monitoring, hydrographic and oceanographic survey and water surface cleaning. Its expansion into trialling autonomous cargo ships is a step up in size and technology.
It is also a significant step in Chinese autonomous ship development.