A Norwegian company plans to build the world's first fully autonomous container ship within three years

Once the stuff of science fiction, an fully autonomous, unmanned container ship could be sailing our seas within three years, if the the Norwegian shipping company Kongsberg is to be believed.

The vessel, the YARA Birkeland is being built by Kongsberg for the Norwegian fertiliser and agricultural company YARA. It will operate on a single shipping route of around 20 miles to begin with, and will be manned by a small crew for the first year of operation from 2019.

Thereafter, the vessel will operate fully autonomously from 2020, although it will be tracked and supervised from a 24-hour command centre. The vessel is also the world’s first fully electric countainer ship.

It is being built to help meet national and business sustainability goals, and is expected to reduce NOx and CO2 pollution by the equivalent of 40,000 lorry journeys over the same route. The vessel YARA Birkeland will have zero emissions. Operation is planned to start in the latter half of 2018, shipping products from YARA’s Porsgrunn production plant to Brevik and Larvik in Norway.

Svein Tore Holsether, President and CEO of YARA, said: ‘As a leading global fertilizer company with a mission to feed the world and protect the planet, investing in this zero emission vessel to transport our crop nutrition solutions fits our strategy well. We are proud to work with KONGSBERG to realize the world’s first autonomous, all-electric vessel to enter commercial operation.

‘Every day, more than 100 diesel truck journeys are needed to transport products from YARA’s Porsgrunn plant to ports in Brevik and Larvik where we ship products to customers around the world. With this new autonomous battery-driven container vessel we move transport from road to sea and thereby reduce noise and dust emissions, improve the safety of local roads, and reduce NOx and CO2 emissions.’

KONGSBERG is responsible for development and delivery of all key enabling technologies on YARA Birkeland including the sensors and integration required for remote and autonomous operations, in addition to the electric drive, battery and propulsion control systems.

Shipping lane collision

Shipping lane collision

Two cargo ships collided at 0130 on Friday 16th August, 14 miles east of Ramsgate, whilst in the same Dover

‘By moving container transport from land to sea, YARA Birkeland is the start of a major contribution to fulfilling national and international environmental impact goals. The new concept is also a giant step forward towards increased seaborne transportation in general,’ says Geir Håøy, President and CEO of KONGSBERG.