World’s first autonomous spill response vessel demonstrated

Spill Response Vessel
Spill Response Vessel

A US maritime robotics specialist company has held a successful on-water demonstration of what it claims is the first unmanned and autonomous oil spill response vessel.

As a part of its cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Transportation Maritime Administration (MARAD), Boston-based Sea Machines Robotics has announced that it has successfully demonstrated its autonomous systems in action on board a Kvichak Marco skimmer boat during events held along the Portland harbour.

The on-water demonstrations took place aboard the world’s first autonomous spill response vessel – a Vigor/Kvichak Marine Industries-built skimmer boat, owned by Marine Spill Response Corp. (MSRC) – before a live audience of MARAD, government, naval, international, environmental and industry representatives.

From a shoreside location at Portland Yacht Services, a Sea Machines operator commandedthe SM300-equipped skimmer boat to perform the following capabilities:
– Remote autonomous control from an onshore location or secondary vessel,
– ENC-based mission planning,
– Autonomous waypoint tracking,
– Autonomous grid line tracking,
– Collaborative autonomy for multi-vessel operations, and
– Wireless, remote payload control to deploy on-board boom, skimmer belt and other response equipment.

Additionally, Sea Machines discussed how to operate the skimmer in an unmanned autonomous mode, which enables operators to respond to spill events 24/7 depending on recovery conditions, even when crews are restricted. These configurations also reduce or eliminate exposure of crewmembers to challenging sea and weather, toxic fumes and other safety hazards.

“Our operation of the world’s first autonomous, remote-commanded spill-response vessel is yet another significant industry first for Sea Machines,” said Michael G. Johnson, founder and CEO, Sea Machines. “But even more important is the fact that we’ve proven that our technology can be applied to the marine spill response industry – as well as other marine sectors – to protect the health and lives of mariners responding to spills. We are proud to support MSRC’s mission of response preparedness and to work alongside MARAD for these important demonstrations.”

“MSRC is excited to work with Sea Machines on this new technology. The safety of our personnel is the most important consideration in any response. Autonomous technology enhances safe operations,” said John Swift, vice president, MSRC.

“This is the future of the maritime industry. It’s safer, it’s faster, it’s more cost-effective,” said Richard Balzano, deputy administrator, MARAD. “This technology is here and it will make you a believer. We are here because we want to help the maritime industry evolve. It’s about safety, the environment and reducing risk on the water.”

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