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Automation proliferates across Norway

Reach Subsea Reach Subsea - Reach Remote 1 .jpg
Computer-controlled dockings and departures are becoming everyday reality in Norwegian waterways, proving in principle that shipping faces at least a partly-automated future.

Automated systems have now accompanied 20,000 ferry crossings in Norway, according to Kongsberg Discovery spokesman Henning Langlete. But automation technology has become evident in other sectors too.

Of particular note are two battery-electric ro-ro barges owned by ASKO, a Norwegian food wholesaler, which are carry up to 16 truck trailers on regular crossings over the Oslofjord between Horten and Moss. For the moment, Asko Marit and Asko Therese have three seafarers on board but they can be controlled entirely from shore with no crew intervention. 

Each voyage is tracked from a quayside control facility in Horten. The position of the barges is tracked precisely on a constant basis, but the automated systems fulfil other functions too – such as keeping track of their operating efficiency and physical condition.

Kongsberg, slightly more than half-owned by the Norwegian Government but run as a commercial concern, has a wide range of automation and remote-control systems which are likely to play a key role in maritime decarbonisation and boosting efficiency. Remote control enables much smaller assets to undertake key tasks without navigation spaces, accommodation, or hotel energy requirements.

Most recently, Trosvik Maritime, a new Norwegian shipyard established in 2019, is constructing two vessels for Reach Subsea, which will provide mobile hangars for windfarm inspection and repair ROVs. Although these two early vessels are intended for wind farm operations, the concept could be adopted in a wide range of offshore applications, including inspecting and safeguarding pipelines, cable inspection and maintenance, and even the monitoring of subsea carbon reservoirs.

The 25m-long Reach Remote 1 and 2 look like a stripped-down SOV, consisting of little more than an ROV moon pool and hangar, communications equipment, battery banks and diesel engines. Doing away with seafaring crew entirely, as well as their accommodation, vessel and ROV operations would instead be controlled from shore. Kongsberg claims this makes it possible to reduce carbon emissions by 90%.

Faced with a perennial shortage of new industry recruits to the sector, the company expects that further development in unmanned operations will unlock new economies throughout the shipping industry, including a new incentive for a green modal shift from road to sea.

“Because of the shortage of crew, and because of the cost of making accommodations on ships, bigger has always been better in shipping,” Langlete explained. “But autonomy makes it possible to go the other way around. Build smaller, build simpler. There is a lot of technology that you can remove if you don't need to cater for the safety of persons.”