First Commercial Crossing of the North Sea by Autonomous Vessel

SEA-KIT vessel with oysters
SEA-KIT vessel with oysters

Published May 12, 2019 6:46 PM by The Maritime Executive

A 12-meter (40-foot) autonomous vessel has sailed across the North Sea with a token cargo of oysters - making it the first commercial crossing by an autonomous vessel.

The vessel, designed and built in Essex, U.K., docked in the Belgian port city of Oostende last week following a successful transit from West Mersea. The voyage lasted 22 hours.

The box of oysters weighed around 5 kg – just a fraction of the current model’s maximum payload of up to 2.5 tons.

The SEA-KIT vessel USV Maxlimer is operated by SEA-KIT International Ltd, and is designed and developed by Hushcraft Ltd, based in Tollesbury, Essex. The vessel can be transported in a single 40-foot container.

The mission was designed to showcase SEA-KIT’s uncrewed navigation capabilities through GPS and satellite communication, including marine traffic avoidance in what is one of the world’s busiest shipping routes. The Global Situational Awareness via Internet (G-SAVI) communications and control system allows an operator to remotely access CCTV footage, thermal imaging and radar through SEA-KIT, as well as listen live to the vessel’s surroundings and communicate with others in the vicinity.

SEA-KIT can be adapted to a range of tasks including hydrographic surveys, environmental missions, and marine safety and security.

The UK-to-Belgium transit was made possible with the support of the U.K. Maritime and Coastguard Agency, the U.K. Department for Transport, the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office, partners in Belgium, and the European Space Agency. With this voyage completed, the team behind the mission will now set their sights on higher goals to test the capabilities of the vessel. 

SEA-KIT was developed for, and used with, the Kongsberg Maritime Hugin AUV System for the GEBCO-Nippon Foundation Alumni Team entry to the Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE, a global competition challenging teams to advance deep-sea technologies for autonomous, fast, high-resolution ocean exploration. The GEBCO-NF team was funded by The Nippon Foundation of Japan, a private, non-profit foundation. 

The team’s concept for efficient, safe and cost-effective seafloor mapping utilized the purpose-built Kongsberg Maritime Hugin AUV System, rated to operate at depths of up to 4,500 meters, supported by SEA-KIT, which has the ability to autonomously launch and recover the AUV and acts as a communication link during subsea survey operations.

The GEBCO-NF Alumni Team includes 16 alumni of The Nippon Foundation-GEBCO Postgraduate Training Program at the University of New Hampshire in the U.S.