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Electric, Autonomous Ro-Ro Freight Ferries Begin Service in Norway

autonomous electric freight ferry
ASKO's two electric ro-ro freight ferries were beginning service this week in Norway (ASKO Maritime)

Published Sep 20, 2022 1:43 PM by The Maritime Executive

The first electric, autonomously operated “sea drones” were christened in Norway last week and were due to begin operation this week for Norway’s largest grocery distributor. It is the beginning of the two-year trial period for the vessels to earn full certification for uncrewed operations.

The two vessels, which are each approximately 220 feet long and weigh 60 tons, were built in India for ASKO Maritime, a new division of the grocery operator. They are designed to operate fully autonomously ferrying freight trailers across Norway’s Oslo Fjord. Once fully certified, they will operate controlled by an onshore center using technology from Massterly, a joint venture between Wilhelmsen and Kongsberg.

The vessels were named Marit and Therese during the christening ceremony in Moss Havn, Norway on September 15 in honor of two of the country’s cross-country skiers and Olympic champions. Operations were beginning this week with the initial trips adapted to distribution for ASKO Oslofjord in Østfold, Norway. 

During the two-year certification period, the vessels will sail with a limited four-person crew, including the captain. Once they have been certified, the plan calls for the vessels to operate uncrewed and as part of a larger emission-free transport system. Each vessel will transport trailers that will be moved between the distribution center in Moss and Horten, Norway using electric trucks. At the ports, autonomous electric trucks will load the trailers aboard the barges. Each vessel has a capacity to carry 16 trailers, each with a maximum capacity of 29 tons.

The vessels are powered by 1846 kWh capacity batteries and they will recharge automatically while docked in port. ASKO expects to build to a level of transporting 150 trailers a day within a few years on the route, saving nearly one million miles of road transport annually and eliminating 5,000 tons of CO2 emissions annually.

The vessels arrived in Norway on August 9 after a delivery voyage aboard a heavy-lift vessel that began in India on June 29.  Initial testing was carried out over the past few weeks at the port in the Horten Industrial Park.

Norway is leading the maritime industry with several autonomous vessel projects. In the spring, Yara christened their first autonomous, electric container vessel the Yara Birkeland. Like ASKO’s freight ferries, Yara Birkeland is beginning a two-year certification process. Furniture manufacturer Ekornes announced in May 2022 that it is partnering with German logistic company DB Schenker along with design firm Naval Dynamics for the development of an autonomous, electric, containership to transport containers on a 23 nautical mile route between Ekornes facility and the seaport at Ålesund. These programs are part of an effort to shift more cargo movement to coastal vessels to reduce the use of road transportation.