VESSEL REVIEW | Zhi Fei – Chinese-built 300TEU boxship boasts autonomous navigation features

UNMANNED CRAFT WEEK
Photo: CCS

The first autonomous containership to be built in China has already begun sailing operationally on the short-sea cargo route between the ports of Qingdao and Dongjiakou in eastern Shandong province.

Zhi Fei (“Flying Wisdom”) was designed by Shanghai Jiahao Ship Design Institute and Dalian Maritime University and constructed by Qingdao Shipyard in compliance to China Classification Society (CCS) rules. The newbuild is being jointly operated on both short-sea and inland routes by the state-owned Shandong Port Shipping Group and shipping company Navigation Brilliance (Brinav).

Zhi Fei has a length of 117 metres, a beam of 17 metres, a draught of three metres, a deadweight of 5,000 tonnes, and capacity for 300 TEUs, making it ideal for use as a feeder containership. With the aid of an electric propulsion system that can also generate only minimal noise, a top speed of 12.5 knots can be reached though sailings will regularly be conducted at a more economical eight knots. Aside from the electric propulsion system, a number of features were incorporated to significantly reduce the vessel’s emissions of NOx, SOx, and CO2.

Photo: CCS

In addition to being used for regular cargo sailings, Zhi Fei will also continue to serve as a technology demonstrator to evaluate the feasibility of incorporating autonomous sailing capability on a broader range of locally-built commercial vessels.

The newbuild is therefore fitted with indigenous systems for independent route planning and collision avoidance, with communications between the vessel and shore stations via 5G, satellite, and other multi-network, multi-mode systems. If the program is successful, the project team will incorporate similar autonomous technologies on future container vessel newbuilds with larger capacities, typically between 500 and 800 TEUs.

For greater operational flexibility, the ship was designed to also be controlled remotely by a human operator from a shoreside station.

Construction of Zhi Fei began in May 2020 and was completed in June 2021. The ship began undergoing sea trials in late June and finally sailed on its maiden operational voyage on September 14. This voyage also served as the first opportunity for the project team to test the ship’s ability to navigate autonomously as well as its ability to be operated remotely from shore. However, as a safety precaution, the ship retains its ability to be operated by embarked human crews.

As part of the program of continued testing mandated by the country’s Ministry of Transport, the ship will later be fitted with a ship-to-shore mobile communication network as well as a smart pilotage system.

Photo: CCS

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Zhi Fei
SPECIFICATIONS
Type of vessel:Feeder containership/Technology demonstrator
Classification:China Classification Society
Flag:China
Owner:Shandong Port Shipping Group, China
Operator:Shandong Port Shipping Group, China; Navigation Brilliance, China
Designer:Shanghai Jiahao Ship Design Institute, China; Dalian Maritime University, China
Builder:Qingdao Shipyard, China
Hull construction material:Steel
Superstructure construction material:Steel
Deck construction material:Steel
Length overall:117 metres
Beam:17 metres
Draught:3.0 metres
Deadweight tonnage:5,000
Capacity:300 TEUs
Maximum speed:12.5 knots
Cruising speed:8.0 knots
Other electronics:Independent route planning system; collision avoidance system
Type of fuel:Battery power

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