World's first crewless and green cargo ships: how they could usher in a new age for shipping freight

Fri 27 Aug 2021
Posted by: Noelle McElhatton
Trade News

The world’s first autonomous electric cargo ship is set to commence operations in Norway this year.

The Yara Birkeland is powered by a huge 7MWh battery that will be charged using cleaner hydroelectric power, and can carry up to 60 containers. The ship’s journey between the towns of Herøya and Brevik will replace 40,000 lorry journeys a year.

Developed by chemicals company, Yara International, the ship will significantly reduce NOx and CO2 emissions, reports the Independent.

Cutting greenhouse gases

Shipping is responsible for 2.5-3% of global greenhouse gases according to the International Maritime Organization, reports CNN. 

The ship’s movements are controlled by three onshore data centres. Although loading and unloading will require humans at first, all loading, discharging, and mooring operations, including berthing and unberthing the vessel, will eventually operate autonomously.

Norway’s maritime authorities have also adapted their regulation to allow the autonomous vessel to operate.

Challenges ahead

Rudy Negenborn, a maritime and transport technology professor at Delft University of Technology, in the Netherlands told CNN that rules and regulations would have to be adapted at a global level for seagoing autonomous ships to operate.

Further challenges to wider usage include self-diagnostic systems and the ability to interact with other ships.

Maersk's green ship

Another Scandinavian company, Maersk, the world’s largest shipper, has staked a claim as a greener shipping company with a £1bn investment in less polluting ships that can run on green methanol as well as traditional bunker fuel.

The ships are due to come online from 2024 reports the Guardian, and will save more than one million tonnes of carbon emissions a year.

Maersk will order more of the ships as it aims to be carbon neutral by 2050.

Pictured in newsletter: the Yara Birkeland; credit Knut Brevik Andersen, Wilhelmsen Ship Service