Offshore structures may be protected by Autonomous Guard Vessels

A consortium of maritime companies has revealed the concept design of an Autonomous Guard Vessel. The futuristic looking design is to support the offshore industry by exploiting technology available today. It is designed to be transported within a 40 FT container, is battery-powered and self-righting. 

The novel design is smaller and lighter than most current guard vessels used to protect offshore operations and boasts sustainable solutions as well as exploiting the benefits of autonomous shipping. In addition, the Autonomous Guard Vessel (AGV) is set to operate more efficiently as well as require lower operating costs due to no crew being required.

The concept was created in a project group facilitated by LISA, a community for maritime professionals. The project group resulted in a consortium, which includes C-Job Naval Architects, SeaZip Offshore Service, and Sea Machines and was recently joined by MARIN and eL-Tec elektrotechniek BV.

Preventing collisions and damage

The AGV is specifically designed for surveillance of offshore structures throughout their life cycle, ranging from wind farms to substation platforms and cable routes. With any area that needs to be secured, the AGV can continuously monitor nearby marine traffic visually as well as via radar and AIS data.

With any vessel that approaches the area, measures will be taken to secure the area in order to avoid collisions and damage to the offshore infrastructure. An intruding vessel can be communicated with and will receive information on how to safely navigate the area as well as being physically escorted away from the site by the Autonomous Guard Vessel. Additionally, the encounter will be recorded to provide video footage in case of any violation or accident.

Taking crew accommodation out of the design

‘Guard vessels perform an essential job, however, it is not the most exciting one for crew,’ explains Pelle de Jong, Founding Partner of LISA. ‘Combined with the fact that conventional guard vessels are mostly outdated and thus aren’t necessarily the most comfortable let alone sustainable, it can be difficult to find well-trained crew willing to do the job.’

‘The group set out to improve upon the overall process of securing an offshore area while incorporating sustainable solutions and reducing overall cost. By utilising the knowledge we have as a group as well as the technology already available, we succeeded in creating a design which does this and more.’

Thanks to incorporating state-of-the-art technology, the AGV does not require crew onboard the vessel. Therefore, accommodations can be eliminated in the design, meaning the ship will be considerably smaller than existing guard vessels. The smaller size creates a number of opportunities, such as using batteries thanks to reduced propulsion requirements. Additionally, the reduced power and lack of onboard crew leads to lower operational costs.

Battery power and solar panels

Sustainability is key to ensure both the viability and durability of the design. Rolph Hijdra, Autonomous Research Lead at C-Job Naval Architects, says: ‘We are pleased we were able to develop a battery-powered design, ensuring the Autonomous Guard Vessel is free of harmful emissions. Additionally, the ship has solar panels across the top which allows for the continuation of navigation and communications in case the batteries run out of power.’

‘Contrary to current guard vessels, the AGV will continue to be operational even with rough sea conditions and have minimal underwater noise owing to the smaller size, reduced propulsion requirements and absence of a diesel engine.’

Multiple AGVs charging on site

The Autonomous Guard Vessel will recharge its batteries via a charging station. The charging station can be moored independently or connected to existing equipment onsite. Depending on the situation, charging could either be via a cable connection to the on-site equipment such as an offshore transformer platform or locally generated using renewable fuels.

The consortium envisions an offshore site will need a number of AGVs, which can take turns in monitoring the area and recharging. ‘The Autonomous Guard Vessels will be constantly patrolling the area and take turns recharging,’ says Harm Mulder, Operations Manager at SeaZip Offshore Service. ‘One fully charged AGV will remain on stand-by supporting operations if a situation arises. For example, when an intrusion is detected – one of the AGVs will monitor, warn, and escort the intruding ship to safety, while the others continue normal operations. Alternatively, it could take over from a monitoring vessel in case the battery runs out of power.’

Human intervention possible

While the consortium continues to work on the AGV design, human intervention for the unmanned vessel has been considered. Conventional guard vessels patrolling offshore structures, from installation through to decommissioning, have few incidents that require intervention from those onboard the vessel.

For those exceptional circumstances, the AGV, if human intervention would be required, will be connected to a Command Center which could control the AGV remotely to ensure correct action is taken. In addition, all data collected by the AGV will be send to the Command Center. This can be a standalone on a mother ship or a shore-based station.

‘Smart vessel technology will have the most significant initial impact on small workboats, such as this guard vessel. The development of autonomous technology for vessel operations are occurring on an international level, but namely in niche segments, such as the guard vessel and other examples, currently operating in (with supervised autonomy) marine survey, fire, patrol, aquaculture and offshore wind operations,’ concludes Frank Relou, Business Development Manager at Sea Machines.

Key features of the Autonomous Guard Vessel

  • Unmanned
  • Battery-powered; twelve hours of continuous operations would require 174 kWh battery capacity. However, alternative options of # hour of operations vs battery packs are still being explored
  • Solar panels across the top to ensure continuation of navigation and communications in case the batteries run out of power
  • Length: 11.7 metres
  • Breadth: 2.07 metres
  • Depth 1.50 metres
  • Draught: 0.55 metres
  • Max. interception speed: 15 knots
  • Two independent drive lines for redundancy
  • Unlimited communication range
  • Equipped with state-of-the-art surveillance system for effective and reliable evidence collection
    Search and Rescue (SAR) modus, life raft onboard which can be deployed in emergencies
  • Environmental surveillance modus
  • Collision Avoidance modus for fixed structures
  • AGV is self-righting meaning that in extreme conditions, the vessel will restore to its upright condition after a capsizing event took place
  • Full AGV is able to be stored and transported in a 40 FT container
  • Equipped with single point of lifting for maintenance purposes without human beings on-board. By these means disregarding all kinds of safety requirements
  • Towing bids forward and aft
  • In addition to protecting offshore structures, the AGV could also be deployed for surveillance of cable/pipe laying operations, mitigation of piracy activities, and illegal fishing, sustainable aquaculture; fish, crustaceans, mollusks, aquatic plants, algae, and other organisms, border protection (coastal surveillance), firefighting operations, line handling in port, subsea route survey, etc.
  • Due to minimal underwater noise can be deployed to vulnerable areas such as the North Sea

Author: Mariska Buitendijk

Mariska Buitendijk is one of SWZ|Maritime's journalists as well as the magazine's copy editor.