August 18, 2021 “PortNews”
The State Duma (Parliament) of Russia is to adopt amendments to the Merchant Shipping Code and several by-laws regulating the use of autonomous vessels this fall. Several agreements of intent for the construction of more than 20 vessels of three series, equipped with autonomous navigation systems, have already been signed with selected shipping companies.
Today, autonomous navigation systems are being tested in real conditions on three ships at once. We are talking about the dry cargo ship ‘Pola Anfisa’ operating in the Mediterranean and Black Seas, the ‘Rabochaya’ barge and the ‘Redut’ dredger (Black and Azov Seas) and the ‘Mikhail Ulyanov’ tanker in the Barents Sea. Most often, they work as usual, but periodically when the opportunity arises, they go to autonomous control mode.
“In the very near future, we are going to conduct demonstration voyages that will summarize these tests,” said Alexander Pinsky, “Marinet” general director.
According to the project, it is planned to complete the experiment on December 31, 2025. The tests will be carried out in 11 regions of the country, including St. Petersburg, Leningrad, Kaliningrad and Murmansk regions.
“The first route operated by such vessels will appear between Ust-Luga in the Leningrad Region and the ports of Kaliningrad and Baltiysk,” said First Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Andrei Belousov. “In the future, after 2025, autonomous vessels will enter the ports”.
This project is especially important for the Kaliningrad region, said Dmitry Lyskov, head of the press service of the Kaliningrad regional government. According to him, the most optimal way of communication between the enclave and the “mainland” is the sea route. But. the ships working on it are very old and obsolete. The railway option is also far from ideal, since foreign “neighbors” make increased demands on it. For example, for a long time they prohibited the transit of trains with more than 50 people on board through their territory. Then this limit was increased to 250 passengers.
At the moment, air traffic is the most stable, but it is not able to cover all the transport needs of the region. Autonomous ferries of “Rosmorport” will solve this problem. Now they are on the final stages of construction, and one of them is undergoing sea trials. It is assumed that they will be able to go to sea in 2022. They have a chance to officially become the world’s first autonomous vessels, if they are not overtaken by two other Russian companies involved in this project.
Similar experiments were carried out by other countries. However, Russia, unlike its foreign competitors, has managed to organize the process in such a way as to fit into international maritime conventions without the need to revise them, which could take decades for approval. In other words, any Russian vessels, including autonomous ones, will comply with all the requirements of the IMO conventions.
Autonomous ships are frequently called ‘unmanned’, but this is not an entirely correct term, emphasizes Alexander Pinsky. Autopilot systems capable to plot a route for a vessel without human intervention appeared in the 1970s – earlier than on airplanes and cars. But, autopilot systems can only guide ships along a given trajectory. If there is any danger, for example, approaching another vessel, the autopilot will not be able to do anything.
Autonomous navigation systems, unlike autopilot, are able not only to identify a dangerous situation, but also to make changes to the route, and then give a command to the rudders and engines of the vessel for the necessary maneuver, or offer such solutions to the person controlling the vessel.
The main point of introducing such systems is to minimize the risk of human errors, which are the main cause of marine accidents and disasters. In addition, it will allow maritime shipping companies to save significant amounts of money. Maritime safety costs a lot of money. This is the installation of various technical means on ships, an additional crew on board, its training and certification. Given that there is a shortage of seafarers in the world, these costs are constantly growing.
According to Alexander Pinsky, autonomous navigation is currently the only way to improve the safety of navigation. Part of the crew can be moved to the shore, and this is already a considerable savings. Some positions on board the ship will simply become unnecessary, since many routine operations will be performed not by a person, but by automation. As a result, the number of crews can be reduced by about 25-30 percent. “We do not set goals to completely get rid of ship crews”, – the expert notes. “Some functions can be handled by machines, and some still require a human. For example, automatics will not be able to take care of passengers on board and rescue them in case of an accident. It also makes no sense to automate a number of technical functions, since it will be more expensive than the work of a person on board – we are talking, for example, about mooring or pilotage in the port. Yet at least one shift can be removed from the crew of the vessel.