Northern Europe and Japan are preparing for the revolution of unmanned and electric container vessels: the first fleets ready by 2025.

In the coming months, 3 unmanned container vessels,  one Japanese, one Finnish and one Norwegian  , will anchor. After that, the seas will never be the same again.

Japan and Norway are working separately on the same goal: to make a container ship travel completely independently. The goal is that  commercial traffic  at sea  , which is growing in intensity from month to month  , can become even cheaper because it takes place without manned personnel, ie without one of the main cost elements for the managers of a cargo ship fleet.


The Japanese ship will sail thanks to the coordinated efforts of the Nippon Foundation and Nippon Yusen Kk, the largest Japanese trading company. The ship, set up these months, will follow a  route of almost 400 kilometers via one of the busiest navigation routes: from Tokyo Bay to Sese Town, Mie County. The test, which represents the field test after a series of experiments previously performed in the laboratory or with short controlled outputs, according to experts will be less than revolutionary. Artificial intelligence will be at the helm not only of the ship, but also of the on-board systems that ensure the proper operation of large vessels and monitor their cargo, consisting of hundreds of containers.


In Norway, the development was done by the Vard shipyard together with the technology company Kongsberg Maritime. According to  CNN  , this second ship will also have the feature of being zero emissions and completely autonomous. His maiden voyage, however, will be on a much more limited scale and will touch two Norwegian ports to verify the expediency of the voyage and will have a “control team” that, without intervening, will oversee their operation on board. systems to  ensure that the computer does everything properly  . The ship will also be inspected by 3 ground centers, which will share the responsibility of verifying the proper operation of the autonomous systems.


Norwegian and Japanese ships are not the first self-propelled ships: in 2018, Finland made its debut on the first fully electric, autonomous container carrier, developed by the chemical giant Yara International. The  Yara Birkeland, that’s his name  , will make his first trip to the end of the year, while the Norwegian is not expected to leave the anchorage before February 2022. By contrast, it is likely the Japanese container ship to leave earlier and maybe even beat the Finns, even if the Japanese company executives have so far talked about targets exceeding 2022 and operational use for commercial purposes by 2025 at the earlies

The market situation

The shipping sector accounts for about 3% of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the International Maritime Organization. But the problem is not just that of pollution. Autonomous driving of these  giant marine trucks  is also necessary because many countries (such as Japan) see crews aging without a replacement: in the cargo sector, 40% of crews are over 55 years old. Increasing the efficiency of this sector through the use of electric ships and mainly artificial intelligence systems means an increase of the Japanese economy by almost 9 billion euros from now until 2040. The autonomous maritime transport sector will be worth 143 billion euros by 2030,  he told  Bloomberg Satoru Kuwahara  , General Manager of  Japan Marine Science  , a subsidiary of Nippon Yusen  .

In addition,  according to sectoral studies  , 70% of maritime accidents are caused by human error  : autonomous driving in this area will increase safety. According to the Nippon Foundation, 50% of the Japanese-flagged cargo fleet could be completely unmanned by 2040. The common goal of all projects, both Japanese and Nordic, is to be commercially ready by 2025 with at least one operational ship.

The technological approaches of the 3 systems, although different in application, follow a similar logic:  the coast control centers process information from satellites  and ship tracking systems, as well as from the detection of artificial intelligence systems on ships and design a series of objectives that must be reach the ship within the widely planned route before departure. These goals can be on the road, with adjustments to avoid traffic or bad weather, instead of shipping, or  traffic or cargo management (which is dynamically adjusted to control the ship). In any case, the artificial intelligence system should be able to make all decisions independently. Even without instructions.FacebookTwitterLinkedInE-mailExchange