It was good to read that the UK’s Plymouth based Automated Ships Ltd will be the primary integrator, project manager and ship-owner of Hrönn, the world’s first fully automated and unmanned ship for commercial use. The vessel will be designed and built in Norway in cooperation with KONGSBERG and is expected to be built by Fjellstrand AS, a Norwegian shipyard with a long history of building state-of-the-art aluminium fast ferries in addition to a number of steel offshore vessels and aluminium work boats. As the builder of the world’s first battery driven car ferry, ‘Ampere’, Fjellstrand AS is well known for taking the lead in maritime innovation and green technology.

Hrönn is a light-duty, offshore utility ship servicing the offshore energy, scientific/hydrographic and offshore fish-farming industries. Its intended uses include but are not limited to: Survey, ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) and AUV (Autonomous Underwater Vehicle) Launch & Recovery, light intermodal cargo delivery and delivery to offshore installations, and open-water fish farm support. The vessel can also be utilised as a standby vessel, able to provide firefighting support to an offshore platform working in cooperation with manned vessels.

The vessel will be contracted in January 2017 and when delivered in 2018 existing technology will have been leveraged to develop a robust, flexible and low-cost ship that will become the market leader. It will offer not only a capable work-boat, it will also provide an unparalleled R&D asset for the furtherance of this emerging industry sector.

The use of unmanned, remotely operated vessels has significant advantages, the main ones being the safe guarding of life and reduction in the cost of production and operations; removing people from the hazardous environment of at-sea operations and re-employing them on-shore to monitor and operate robotic vessels remotely, along with the significantly decreased cost in constructing ships, will revolutionise the marine industry.

The question is, “Will ALL of the ships at sea ever be unmanned and remotely operated?”
I hope not.