MOL to test autonomous shipping on ferry, container ship

MOL autonomous ferry project. Credit: MOL

Japanese shipping group Mitsui OSK Lines (MOL) will test unmanned voyages on a ferry and coastal container ship owned by its subsidiaries.

The demonstration voyages will be conducted with Oarai, an MOL ferry-owned large-scale coastal ferry, and Mikage, a coastal container ship owned by Imoto Corporation and operated by Imoto Lines, using surrounding cognitive technology based on sensors developed by Furuno Electric and automatic berthing technologies developed by Mitsui Engineering & Shipbuilding. The sensors and berthing technologies are developed to avoid obstacles and prevent collisions.

MOL, headed by CEO Junichiro Ikeda, said, “MOL will oversee the entire programme and conduct risk assessments, drawing upon its accumulated expertise in ship operations management.

“MOL is working to realise autonomous vessels to achieve two aims – further enhancement of safe operation by using new underlying technologies, and reduction of crew members’ workload. The company believes that autonomous sailing can address safety issues and reduce human errors, which contribute to about 70% of marine accidents.”

In addition, mooring support technology using a drone, developed by Sekido, will be introduced in the demonstration voyage of the coastal container ship.

Coastal shipping, the target of the programme, is a key element of Japan’s logistics system, transporting about 40% of the nation’s domestic cargo and about 80% of basic industrial commodities on a ton-kilometer basis. However, the coastal shipping sector is heavily dependent on an ageing workforce.

MOL has applied to Nippon Foundation to fund the demonstration voyages, which will be carried out by 31 March 2021.