VESSEL REVIEW | Zhu Hai Yun – Chinese-built drone mothership boasts autonomous sailing systems


China State Shipbuilding Corporation (CSSC) subsidiary Huangpu Wenchong Shipbuilding has delivered a new research vessel equipped with an autonomous navigation system.

Classed by China Classification Society (CCS), Zhu Hai Yun (“Zhuhai Cloud”) will be operated by the Southern Ocean Science and Engineering Guangdong Laboratory (Zhuhai). Its primary role is to serve as a mothership for smaller, sensor-equipped unmanned air, surface, and undersea research and monitoring vehicles. The unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) will include diesel-fuelled, wave-powered, and solar energy-powered variants.

Zhu Hai Yun has an aluminium hull, an LOA of 88 metres, a moulded beam of 14 metres, a design draught of 3.7 metres, a displacement of 2,100 tonnes, a gross tonnage of 2,548, and a deadweight of 2,000. A maximum speed of 18 knots can be achieved thanks to a diesel-electric propulsion system consisting of one 1,140kW and two 1,710kW generators, two 1,950kW azimuth pod thrusters, and emergency use batteries with a total output of 600 kWh.

An energy management system controls and monitors the charge and discharge control of the generators, the diesel engines, and batteries according to demand to ensure the stability of the system and the security of the power supply. A battery energy storage system is also fitted.

Zhu Hai Yun is equipped with two A-frames enabling over-the-side operations. The deployed unmanned craft can also be controlled from the vessel, enabling them to scan a 3D section of ocean measuring 54 nautical miles across. The resulting large coverage provided by the coordinated drones is ideal for a number of tasks including environmental monitoring, offshore wind farm maintenance, and even detection of hostile submarines and other undersea threats, giving the drone carrier a secondary maritime security function.

Other electronics include a joystick-operated dynamic positioning system and an engine room management system.

Zhu Hai Yun will initially be deployed in the waters of the Greater Bay Area between Guangdong, Hong Kong, and Macau.

Click here for more news stories, features, and vessel reviews as part of this month’s focus on the research and training sector.

Zhu Hai Yun
Type of vessel:ASV – Research vessel mothership
Classification:China Classification Society
Operator:Southern Ocean Science and Engineering Guangdong Laboratory (Zhuhai), China
Builder:Huangpu Wenchong Shipbuilding, China
Hull construction material:Aluminium
Length overall:88 metres
Beam:14 metres
Draught:3.7 metres
Displacement:2,100 tonnes
Deadweight tonnage:2,000
Gross tonnage:2,548
Propulsion:2 x 1,950 kW
Generators:1,140 kW; 2 x 1,710 kW
Maximum speed:18 knots
Batteries:600 kWh
Other electronics:Energy management system; engine room management system
Other deck equipment:2 x A-frames
Type of fuel:Diesel
Operational area:Greater Bay Area, China

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