VESSEL REVIEW | Yara Birkeland – Electric containership to be fitted with autonomous sailing capability

Photo: Yara International

Norwegian shipowner Yara International will soon begin operational sailings of the world’s first electric-powered, self-propelled container vessel.

Yara Birkeland was developed by the owners in collaboration with local maritime technology company Kongsberg Gruppen. Construction was carried out locally at the facilities of Fincantieri subsidiary Vard. Financial support for the newbuilding project was provided by ENOVA International.

The newbuild has an LOA of 79.5 metres, a moulded beam of 14.8 metres, and a maximum draught of six metres. The electric propulsion includes a Leclanche 6.7MWh lithium-ion battery pack and two azimuth pod-mounted propellers, and this arrangement delivers a service speed of six knots and a maximum speed of 13 knots. Two tunnel thrusters provide added manoeuvrability for berthing/unberthing and navigating in close quarters.

The cargo deck can accommodate a total of 120 TEU totalling 3,200 DWT. Loading and discharging of cargo are done automatically using electric cranes and other equipment. The ship does not have ballast tanks, but will use the battery pack as permanent ballast.

The ship is also equipped with an automatic mooring system. Berthing and unberthing will be done without human intervention, and will not require special implementations dock-side.

Photo: Leclanche

The onboard electronics supplied by Kongsberg consist of radar, LIDAR, AIS, cameras, a radio, and a remote monitoring and operation system that allows Yara Birkeland to be controlled by a human operator from three shore-based monitoring centres. The monitoring centre is operated by Massterly, a joint venture between Kongsberg and shipping company Wilhelmsen.

Yara CEO Svein Tore Holsether claims a year’s worth of sailings by the vessel will result in CO2 reductions of as much as 1,000 tonnes, or the equivalent total volume produced by 40,000 diesel-powered trucks.

Yara Birkeland completed its maiden voyage in November 2021 by sailing through the Oslofjord. It is slated to commence operational sailings in 2022, though the vessel will still undergo continued testing over the next two years. The tests will determine the feasibility of incorporating a fully autonomous sailing capability on the vessel as an optional mode in addition to its remote operation capability.

Following the incorporation of this capability, the ship will sail within 12 nautical miles from the coast, between three ports in southern Norway. To ensure safety, three centres with different operational profiles are planned to handle all aspects of the vessel’s autonomous operation. These centres will handle emergency and exception handling, condition monitoring, operational monitoring, decision support, surveillance of the autonomous ship and its surroundings, and all other aspects of safety. An interface towards Yara logistical operation will be implemented at the operational centre at Herøya.

Photo: Yara International

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Yara Birkeland
Type of vessel:Containership/Technology demonstrator
Owner:Yara International, Norway
Designer:Kongsberg Gruppen, Norway
Builder:Vard, Norway
Hull construction material:Steel
Superstructure construction material:Steel
Deck construction material:Steel
Length overall:79.5 metres
Beam:14.8 metres
Draught:6.0 metres
Capacity:120 TEUs
Side thrusters:2
Maximum speed:13 knots
Cruising speed:6.0 knots
Batteries:Leclanche, 6.7 MWh
Monitoring system:Kongsberg
Other electronics:Automatic mooring system; Kongsberg LIDAR

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