Yara Birkeland completion delayed due COVID-19

Much heralded and scheduled to become the world’s first fully electric and autonomous ship, Yara Birkeland has become the latest victim of the COVID-19 crisis.

The hull of the vessel was launched at VARD Braila in Romania in February 2020 and is expected to arrive at the VARD Brevik Norwegian shipyard in May to be fitted with various control- and navigation systems and undergo testing before delivery to Yara.

This week the owner has announced that due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the changed global outlook, it has decided to pause further development of the vessel and will assess next steps together with its partners.

Yara and technology company Kongsberg teamed up in 2017 with the ambition to build the world’s first autonomous and zero-emission container vessel. Replacing 40,000 truck journeys a year, Yara Birkeland will when completed reduce NOx and CO2 emissions and improve road safety in a densely populated urban area in Norway.

The 120teu open top container vessel was due to commence operations later this year with a crew and for the first phase of the project a detachable bridge with equipment for manoeuvring and navigation will be implemented. When the ship is ready for autonomous operation this module will be lifted off.

Loading and discharging will be done automatically using electric cranes and equipment. The ship will not have ballast tanks, but will use the battery pack as permanent ballast. The ship will also be equipped with an automatic mooring system – berthing and unberthing will be done without human intervention, and will not require special implementations dock-side.

To ensure safety when operated autonomously, three centres with different operational profile are planned to handle all aspects of 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.

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