Electric container ship “Yara Birkeland”: without diesel and without a captain on board

Electric container ship "Yara Birkeland": without diesel and without a captain on board

Status: 04/29/2022 2:54 PM

It is considered the beginning of a revolution in shipping: in Norway, the world’s first fully electric container ship begins its test operations. In future it should also control itself.

by Arne Bartram, ARD Studio Stockholm

From the outside it looks like a normal large container ship. Truly, “Yara Birkeland” is a revolution in shipping. If all goes well, it should be able to transport cargo on its own and without crew – and not blow any more climate-damaging gases into the air. A test run for this will start from today and will last for two years.

Meanwhile, the giant container ship is on its way south of Norway. It transports fertilizer for a company. It is 13 km from Breivik port to the company premises. In the beginning, the “Yara Birkeland” is still controlled manually. “The ship is equipped with cameras inside and out, including a night vision camera,” explains Captain Thomas Fawang.

“In operation, the ship will be able to differentiate between different objects in the water. The objects are first detected by radar, then the ship films them, and finally the ship itself decides how to react to obstacles to avoid confrontation.”

soon in the office instead of high seas

Does this also mean that the captain’s job will become really wasteful? Fewang answers the question hesitantly. “You can say so. But you can also say that my job description will completely change. I will no longer be standing on the ship as captain, but I will sit on the ground and make sure everyone is in tech. Have something under control.”

Working at sea may soon become an office job. Staring at the screen instead of the waves on the high seas. But it will take some time for Captain Fewang to be ready. “At the moment I’m still controlling everything here,” he says. “The ship will then gradually take on more and more tasks by itself. All the automatisms are now being tried out.”

It does not include only tax. The loading and unloading of 120 containers into the port at the end of the trial phase should also be fully automated. “Yara Birkeland” is already fully electric. The ship has 20 batteries and no diesel engines like normal container ships.

Leading role for Norway

Norway is a leader in electric mobility on the water. The world’s largest electric car ferry also operates here. This makes the passengers feel good. “On a diesel-powered yacht, you hear the engine noise all the time. It sounds kind of dirty on a conventional yacht,” says a passenger. “On an electric ferry, it’s nice to get on board and the ride is very smooth. Plus, you don’t have to feel bad about leaving an ecological footprint.”

And one passenger says: “I think it’s great for the environment that the ferries are now electrically powered.” It is also used a lot, she does a lot of visits per day. “So it’s great that it has an electric motor.”

Naturally, environmental considerations also play a major role on “Yara Birkland.” Captain Fewang says the electric container ship should save about 40,000 truck trips per year. “It will take some time before it can be used around the world. But at short distances like here, the battery is becoming more and more important.” However, it will still take a few years before the battery is enough to drive from Europe to the US. “Battery propulsion will be seen more and more frequently in more and more local ships,” Fewang is certain. The test phase of “Yara Birkeland” could be the best start for future shipping.

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