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Changing of the guard

Ship & Boat International eNews: September/October 2020

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The hours are long and frequently uneventful, and onboard life is often boring and uncomfortable. So why put human crew aboard offshore guard vessels at all? That’s the thinking behind the Autonomous Guard Vessel (AGV) concept, intended to cut operational overheads while providing a more efficient, clean means of safeguarding offshore sites.

 

The AGV is the brainchild of a project group facilitated by LISA, an industry association for shipbuilders, naval architects and marine service companies, which led to the formation of a consortium including: C-Job Naval Architects of the Netherlands; Dutch OSV operator SeaZip Offshore Service; Boston, US-based drone tech developer Sea Machines; Maritime Research Institute Netherlands (MARIN); and eL-Tecelektrotechniek, a Dutch engineering and system integration specialist.

 

Guard vessels prevent unrecognised/unauthorised vessels from entering oil and gas sites and wind turbine farms; not only for security purposes, but to ensure the safety of offshore personnel and OSVs working in the area – not to mention the safety of the ‘intruder’. Pelle de Jong, LISA founding partner, states: “Guard vessels perform an essential job. However, it is not the most exciting one for crew. Combined with the fact that conventional guard vessels are mostly outdated and thus aren’t necessarily the most comfortable let alone sustainable, it can be difficult to find well-trained crew ready to do the job.”

 

The AGV would use live video, radar and AIS data to monitor nearby traffic and respond to unauthorised vessels. “An intruding vessel can be communicated with and will receive information on how to safely navigate the area, as well as being physically escorted away from the site by the AGV,” C-Job explains. “Additionally, the encounter will be recorded to provide video footage in case of any violation or accident.”

 

The AGV will feature a length of 11.7m, a 2.07m beam and a depth of 1.5m, and will draw 550mm. The LISA project partners have calculated that a battery capacity of 174kWh will grant the vessel a top interception speed of 15knots and an endurance of 12 hours. However, they stress that investigations into battery arrangements for the AGV are ongoing, and the above figure does not necessarily reflect the final power arrangement.

 

The plan is to recharge the batteries using a charging station, which could be moored independently or connected to an on-site platform. Solar panels across the top of the AGV will enable the vessel to maintain connectivity with shore should the batteries run out of juice. If it's  necessary to take ‘human control’ of the AGV, crew in the onshore command centre can switch from autonomous to remote-control mode. However, in C-Job’s opinion, such incidents would comprise “exceptional circumstances” – the majority of intrusions into offshore worksites tend to be accidental rather than malicious, and most ‘stray’ boat operators are happy to exit the area once they realise their mistake.

 

The LISA partners believe that the AGV could also be used in sustainable aquaculture, and perhaps used to deter illegal fishing; the lack of  a diesel engine equals low underwater noise levels, which could prove especially beneficial when monitoring fish and molluscs.