On Monday, Seafar, a specialized company in remotely controlled navigation, launched the first shipping trip between the ports of Antwerp and Zeebrugge. Deseo, a 110-meter long containership – the largest semi-autonomous canal ship – will make the trip daily, transporting containers to and from the river Scheldt and the North Sea.
Ultimately, the ship will not have any crew on board but will be remotely controlled from Seafar’s control center ashore. The operators are certified captains and use 4G and 5G connections and a series of high-technological systems based on artificial intelligence, sensor fusion, and object detection to guarantee safe navigation.
Seafar incorporates its artificial intelligence algorithms for sensor fusion to build an accurate model of the world. The world is stored in a database that can be accessed and improved by any autonomous vessel that enters that region. Environmental sensors such as LiDAR, radar, and cameras produce data used in obstacle identification and classification.
“The computer is navigating the ship, but the operators can intervene if necessary,” explains Seafar CEO Louis-Robert Cool in a Belga press release on Tuesday.
Most complex stretch
The first trips will have a crew of five aboard for safety reasons, a measure imposed by the Flemish Department of Mobility, the Common Nautical Authorities, and the Flemish Waterway. “Because the Western Scheldt is one of the busiest rivers in the world, and safety comes first,” they say.
If everything goes well, the team of five will be gradually cut back to four and finally three. According to Cool, Belgium already has about seven semi-autonomous ships sailing on the inland canals. Deseo is the largest one, sailing on the most complex stretch in Belgium: the river Scheldt and the Belgian coast.
Seafar NV is an independent Belgian ship management company offering services to operate crewless or crew-reduced vessels semi-autonomous ships for ship owners and shipping companies. The company’s headquarters are situated in Antwerp.
Seafar is a forerunner in the development and operational integration of state-of-the-art technologies for semi-autonomous and unmanned shipping. Seafar’s mission is to help ship owners to reach their full potential through innovative services.
Sustainable business strategy
The goal of Seafar’s sustainable business strategy is to have a positive impact on society and industry. As a pioneer in the shipping industry, Seafar wants to innovate and implement new technologies to accelerate the path to zero-carbon shipping.