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Yohei Sasakawa
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Crewless Cargo Ship to Make World’s First Test Run in Congested Waters with The Nippon Foundation’s Support [2021/11/01]
Backed by The Nippon Foundation, a consortium of 30 Japanese companies, led by Nippon Yusen Kaisha (NYK), the nation’s largest shipping firm, plans to have a container ship pilot itself from Tokyo Bay to Ise, a coastal city in Mie Prefecture, central Japan, in February 2022.

The 380-kilometer voyage will be the world’s first test of an autonomous ship in waters with heavy marine traffic.

Under the project, dubbed DFFAS (Designing the Future of Full Autonomous Ship), The Nippon Foundation and the NYK group aim to put unmanned ships into commercial service by 2025.

As an important step in preparation for the test voyage, the consortium completed the construction of a fleet operation center (FOC) in mid-September in Makuhari, Chiba Prefecture, east of Tokyo, which will provide onshore support for crewless ships by collecting information and monitoring and analyzing the operational status of vessels, using satellite technology, onboard sensors, and Artificial Intelligence (AI). In the case of an emergency, the ships can be steered remotely from this base.

The background to this ambitious project is the current state of Japan’s domestic coastal shipping industry, which is characterized by an aging population of seafarers--more than half of them aged 50 and older-- as well as a declining number of crew members working in the industry.

Under these circumstances, autonomous ships are expected to go a long way in reducing workloads and trimming operating costs, including insurance premiums. Besides, crewless sailing can also address safety issues by reducing human errors, which account for about 80% of marine accidents.

“With the issue of Japan’s shrinking workforce in mind, there’s a growing need for these technologies to uphold safety,” said Satoru Kuwahara, a general manager at NYK subsidiary Japan Marine Science Inc.

“The NYK Group will make full use of the technology and experience so far cultivated in the technological development of maritime autonomous surface ships. The DFFAS project will work toward the standardization of technology and the establishment of systems and infrastructure through open collaboration,” he added.

The NYK group is one of the five consortia of Japanese companies The Nippon Foundation has decided to provide with a total of 3.44 billion yen (about $30.3 million) for their participation in the Joint Technological Development Program for the Demonstration of Unmanned Ships.

The five groups have brought together a total of about 50 Japanese companies, comprising the country’s leading shipping and shipbuilding as well as equipment manufacturing, communications, IT, insurance and other firms, for what they claim to be an “All Japan” team. They are undertaking projects that involve a mix of autonomous container ships (large and small), car ferries, as well as tourist boats, in a bid to maximize their application to commercial shipping.

Under the program “MEGURI 2040” initiative, The Nippon Foundation now aims to see unmanned ships make up 50% of Japan’s local fleet by 2040. If we achieve this goal, the foundation estimates the economic impact of unmanned shipping will be as much as one trillion yen (about $8.8 billion) a year.

I believe it is technologically possible for Japan to commercialize crewless ships, given the high levels of the nation’s IT and AI technologies combined with its years of experience as a leading shipping and shipbuilding country.

For now, it is my strong wish that the NYK group will conduct the first successful demonstration of an autonomous ship in congested waters in February, paving the way for the four other consortia and the rest of the world to make headway toward the commercialization of crewless shipping.
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 17:56 | OCEAN | URL | comment(0)