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Seaowl Plans Unmanned Fleet for Offshore Inspection Services

vn rebel
Remote watchstander's workstation for VN Rebel (Marlink)

Published May 20, 2021 9:11 PM by The Maritime Executive

Marine and offshore service provider Seaowl is setting out on a new technological journey. Seeking to dispense with the cost of chartering large OSVs and their crews for subsea services, Seaowl has developed an unmanned vessel that can be fully operated from its remote control center in France. The company plans to build a fleet of these ships, using advanced remote operations to save transportation, maintenance and staff costs for its offshore customers. 

Bringing this technology to market has been a significant undertaking, and Seaowl has worked in partnership with class, regulators and technology providers in order to put its first prototype on the water. Seaowl conducted the first real-world demonstration of its Remotely Operated Service at Sea (ROSS) system in September 2020 aboard the PSV VN Rebel. With successful remote control from shore, the project demonstrated a "significant reduction in operating costs" for applications in the offshore sector, the company said.

The ROSS project required close coordination with France's Department of Maritime Affairs, which provided a special-purpose navigation license for the unmanned trial. Bureau Veritas helped specify compliance and safety requirements for the vessel's one-of-a-kind systems.

One of the key safety and security considerations for a remotely-operated vessel is the robustness of its connection with the operator. To ensure a secure link to shore, Seaowl worked with Marlink to install a special purpose, highly resilient satellite network connection system for VN Rebel. The solution included the telecom link, cybersecurity protections and digital software built to the highest standards of reliability. 

The VN Rebel is fitted with video cameras and microphones, giving the remote watch officer a visual field and sound environment similar to what he would have if he were on board. This kind of multi-channel streaming demands a fast, seamless data connection, with all-weather availability. To meet this need, Marlink installed a VSAT system with three antennas, dual satellite feeds and dual below-deck equipment systems. BV and the French Department of Maritime Affairs worked with Marlink to ensure its compliance with regulatory requirements.

Based on the successful trial, Seaowl plans to build 20 electric-powered, remotely-operated offshore service vessels by 2028. These newbuilds will be deployed for underwater inspections of offshore oil and gas infrastructure and windfarms. Total, Naval Group and French ecology agency Ademe are providing financial support for the venture.

The company is also looking to build unmanned systems for adjacent maritime sectors. In conjunction with submarine cable company Alcatel and autonomous tech firm iXBlue, SeaOwl is developing a remotely-operated hydrographic surface vessel, which would be deployed for long-distance survey missions.