Norwegian grocery distributor plans to use autonomous RoRo vessels

Kongsberg Maritime and Massterly have signed contracts with Norwegian grocery distributor ASKO to equip two new vessels with autonomous technology, and to manage their operations at sea. The fully electric ships are to replace 2 million kilometres of truck transport, saving 5000 tonnes of CO2 every year.

ASKO currently transports its cargo by more than 800 trucks daily. At present, road transport is the single mode of transportation to link the company’s warehouses on the western side of the Oslo fjord with their distribution centre on the eastern side. The new RoRo (Roll on, Roll off) vessels are to offer a zero emission transport alternative.

‘We have a clear ambition to be climate neutral and have set ambitious goals, including being a self-sufficient provider of clean energy and having 100 per cent emission-free transport by 2026. These innovative ships are key to fulfilling that ambition and will form an essential component of a zero-emissions logistics chain linking our facilities,’ explains Kai Just Olsen, Director, ASKO Maritime. ‘Fully electric trucks will take the cargo between the warehouses and the ports of Moss and Horten, and in shipments of sixteen, the trailers will be transported across the fjord on the battery-driven vessels. This solution is cost effective, sustainable and will remove trucks from a heavily trafficked road.’

Towards unmanned voyages

The vessels will be equipped with the technology required for zero emission and unmanned operation by Kongsberg Maritime, while Massterly (a Kongsberg Wilhelmsen joint venture) will ensure ship management and safe operations from their shore-based Remote Operations Centre. The two vessels will initially operate with a reduced crew, before moving towards unmanned voyages.

‘When we teamed up with Wilhelmsen to form Massterly, this was exactly the kind of project we wanted to enable,’ says Egil Haugsdal, President, Kongsberg Maritime. ‘By working together with us to bring autonomous, electric solutions into everyday use, ASKO are helping to achieve a sustainable, safer future for maritime operations while also demonstrating the efficiencies these technologies can deliver.’

Thomas Wilhelmsen, CEO of Wilhelmsen Group, adds: ‘The ASKO contract illustrates how Massterly is key in making autonomy a reality for short-sea shipping. We are proud to be the world’s first ship management company to operate unmanned vessels for commercial use. Now we are one step closer to our goal of enabling sustainable trade: through cost effective, safe, and environmentally friendly logistics.’

Since the ASKO operation lies within Norway’s coastal jurisdiction, the Norwegian Maritime Authorities (NMA) must be satisfied that a sufficient level of safety has been achieved before they will issue an approval of operation for these vessels. NMA will therefore follow the project through a detailed risk assessment, based on IMO 1455 guidelines with regards to equivalent and alternative designs, new technology, verification, and approval for operation. DNV GL will also support this process as an independent third party.

Delivery in 2022

The vessels, which are due to be delivered early in 2022, have been designed by Norwegian vessel designer Naval Dynamics and will be constructed at the state-owned Cochin Shipyard in India. The functionality enabling autonomous operation will be implemented and tested after arrival in the operational area in the Oslo fjord.

The vessel details are:

  • Overall length: 66 metres
  • Breadth moulded: 15 metres
  • Design deadweight: 448 tonnes
  • Design draft: 1.70 metres
  • Scantling deadweight: 573 tonnes
  • Scantling draft: 1.90 metres
  • Battery capacity: 1800 kWh

Each vessel will be able to load, carry and discharge 16 EU-spec trailers. The vessels are constructed in accordance with the rules and regulations of the DNV GL Classification Society with the Class notation: 1A1 + Battery Power + RP (1,40) + R3 + General Cargo + BIS. The battery capacity enables fully loaded sailing for four hours at eight knots.

ENOVA has supported the project – including the required port infrastructure – with 119 MNOK (EUR 11.25 million), in line with the Norwegian society’s commitment to reduce emissions and transfer transport from road to sea where feasible. With Norwegian companies delivering around 60 per cent of the investment, this is a major milestone for the growth of sustainable maritime operations in Norway.

Yara Birkeland

It is not the first commercial autonomous vessel project for Norway. Yara and technology company Kongsberg teamed up in 2017 to build the Yara Birkeland. This was to be the world’s first autonomous and zero-emission container vessel. However, development was paused earlier this year due to the corona crisis. Since then, no new information concerning this project has been forthcoming.

Author: Mariska Buitendijk

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