Japanese Ferry to Test Berthing Aid Technology Using Satellites

berthing assistance system
Japanese ferry Sunflower Gold will conduct the trials of the berthing technology system (Nkensei photo - CC BY-SA 3.0 license)

Published Sep 16, 2022 2:11 PM by The Maritime Executive

Mitsui O.S.K. Lines (MOL) and its ferry operator, Ferry Sunflower, are launching a nearly seven-month trial of a technology system designed to aid vessels during berthing operations. The trial is the latest step in efforts by the Japanese companies to deploy technology to improve the safety of the operations of vessels and which could eventually automate navigation.

The companies highlighted that berthing is conducted visually based on the crew’s experience and observations. The "Berthing Aid System" under development by Furuno Electric Co. measures the exact distance and angle between the hull and the pier, based on information obtained from LiDAR and satellite compasses. The results are displayed on multiple screens which the captain and crew can use to inform the maneuvers. MOL has been testing similar navigation aid systems on other vessels which are designed to show course and direction and potential obstacles or other vessels moving in the path of the ship.

The trial of the berthing aid system is beginning in September and will run till March 2023. The vessel that was selected for the trial is the 15-year-old Sunflower Gold. It is an 11,178 gross ton ro-ro ferry operating approximately 11-hour trips between the Japanese ports of Kobe and Oita. Measuring 543 feet in length, the ferry accommodates over 700 passengers and has space for 147 trucks and 75 cars.

The crew of the ferry will test the system and verify its ease of use. They will explore the ease of understanding the displays when looking at the screens. According to MOL, the system was developed to improve the safety and efficiency of berthing operations and they are looking to support the development and commercialization of the system.

MOL has been involved in several previous tests and demonstrations of the berthing assist system. Earlier this year, as part of a government-supported program for automation of shipping, MOL participated in demonstrations including a fully automated docking operation. The company reports that based on the information from these demonstrations the companies are simplifying the system installation on the vessel to improve the usability of the system in advance of its commercial implementation.

This is one of several efforts designed to use technology to enhance and eventually automate docking and undocking. Last week, Grimaldi reported that the European Space Agency had selected and will assist with a program that involves using satellites for docking maneuvers. Their goal is to demonstrate the system on a Grimaldi ro-ro at a terminal in Antwerp by March 2024.

Top photo by Nkensei of the Sunflower Gold in Osaka in 2007 (CC BY-SA 3.0 license)