Maersk Tankers completes first drone delivery at sea

Now on the face of it, this could be regarded as a rather frivolous news story – the delivery of a tin of cookie biscuits to the tanker Maersk Edgar at sea. But as you read the story, the potential ramifications for the future become clear.

The first drone delivery to a vessel at sea has been successfully completed by Maersk Tankers, heralding a big cost and time-saving potential for vessels.

The delivery, which took place near Kalundborg in Denmark and was a test, demonstrated how using drones to deliver urgent parcels to vessels and conduct inspections has huge potential for Maersk Tankers. Further tests will now follow before the new drones can become a part of the supply chain for Maersk Tankers’ vessels.

Maersk Tankers faces high costs for onboard delivery of small parcels filled with urgent spare parts, mail or medicine due to the need for a barge. In the tanker business, it can be difficult to predict far in advance which port will be called at next, and even when in port, it can be complicated and expensive to deliver items to these vessels as they are not alongside the quay.

“Costs for a barge are on average $1,000 and can easily go up to $3,000 or more. With the current pay-load of drones, on average a vessel has three cases per year in which the barge transport could be substituted by a drone – meaning a potential avoidance of barge costs of $3,000-$9,000 per vessel per year. And if you consider that Maersk Tankers has around 100 vessels, the savings potential could be substantial,” said Markus Kuhn, Supply Chain Manager at Maersk.

Maersk Tankers successfully completed the first drone test at the end of January. The drone used for the test was from the French company Xamen and ATEX approved (zone 2) and the test involved the delivery of a small parcel. Due to bad weather conditions, it was not possible to launch the drone from the shore as planned, but the parcel was instead successfully dropped from 5m onto the vessel after having flown in from a tugboat. The test took place at Kalundborg and was approved by Danish authorities. It was also carried out in alignment with Maersk Tankers’ high health and safety standards.

“It is fundamental that any drones used by Maersk Tankers are safe for the environment they are operating in. They must be certified as intrinsically safe for most tasks, so they cannot create any spark, even if they were to crash. Some inspections can pose risks if performed by humans. If drones are approved for tank inspections, it will improve safety on tankers and potentially in other oil-related installations,” said Markus Kuhn.

As well as delivering urgent parcels, drones have the potential to be used for inspections such as taking high quality photos or videos of certain areas to identify cracks. Such potential early findings could avoid higher expenses if problems are only discovered later. There is a lot of potential for all Maersk businesses, for instance, Maersk Oil and Drilling already testing drones for inspections of i.e. flare tips or other installations. APM Terminals and Maersk Supply Service are also starting to look into it.

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