The "Lean-Crewed" Future Arrives at Vard Søviknes

Vard Soviknes
This survey vessel may soon be operating without crew (Ocean Infinity)

Published Jan 5, 2023 11:34 PM by The Maritime Executive

Subsea survey and inspection company Ocean Infinity's "Armada" robotic fleet came a step closer to reality this week with the arrival of its first minimally-manned/unmanned vessel at the Vard Søviknes yard in Norway. 

The newly-built Armada 7801 departed Vard Vung Tao in Vietnam in early December. With crew aboard to navigate and operate her systems, the OSV-shaped vessel made a transit to the Norwegian Sea, arriving in Søviknes on January 3. Sister ship Armada 7802 was following right behind.

When both vessels have arrived, Vard and Ocean Infinity will install the survey and inspection payload equipment and remote operation systems, along with efficient accommodations for a small crew. Vard affiliate Seaonics will be installing a flexible launch and recovery system for the vessels' twin moonpools.

Ocean Infinity expects that the 7801 will be entering service on offshore survey tasks in the coming months using a "lean-crewed" manning model. The eventual objective is to achieve crewless operations.  

In 2020, Ocean Infinity announced that it would broaden its focus from search and survey contracting to "marine robotics," including autonomous vessels. It launched a plan to build an "Armada" of more than a dozen unmanned vessels to support AUV and ROV operations. Vard Vung Tao won the contract for the first eight ships, each 78 meters long. In addition, Ocean Infinity has ordered a series of six 85-meter vessels, also from Vard. 

Eventually, each ship will be controlled by a monitoring center on shore. Without onboard crew, there will be a lower carbon footprint: each ship will operate with no hotel load, no plane flights to transport personnel, and less weight and volume for accommodations (meaning less displacement).