Yara Birkeland delivered but not ready to sail autonomously

The Norwegian shipyard Vard Brattvåg has handed over the Yara Birkeland to fertiliser company Yara. The vessel was to be the first fully autonomous logistics concept in the world. Yet, the emission-free container ship is not capable of sailing autonomously yet as the needed logistics still pose a challenge.

The vessel, which is battery-powered and considered to be completely emission-free, will be sailing fixed journeys between Yara’s fertiliser factory in Porsgrunn and the ports of Brevik and Larvik in Norway. The 80-metre long vessel has a capacity of 120 TEU.

The project has suffered delays due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The company stated in May: ‘Due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the changed global outlook, Yara has decided to pause further development of the vessel and will assess next steps together with its partners.’

Solution needed for autonomous logistics on land

The ship has now been completed after all, including the fitting of the battery, control and navigation systems, but will not be sailing autonomously yet. First, it will undergo testing for container loading and stability. Then the ship will sail to a port and test area in Horten for further preparations for autonomous operation.

Yara says it encountered difficulties with the autonomous part of the innovation project: ‘In particular, the autonomous logistics on land have proven to be a challenge for the project.’ For this part, ‘the project team continues to look for simplified solutions’.

The company adds, however, that it is committed to complete the project and bring the emission-free ship into commercial operation for which ‘different ownership models or partnerships will be evaluated for operation and commercialisation’.

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Author: Mariska Buitendijk

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