Another busy month in which the prospect of some kind of automation in ship control appeared to move ominously nearer, though somewhat closer on the regulatory agenda is the prospect of CO2 emissions monitoring at EU ports. The industry was doing its bit to support seafarers at risk from Ebola and as Christmas drew ever closer we saw the IMO’s Polar Code approved and celebrity endorsement for ultra large containerships.

Unmanned vessels two steps closer?

The DigitalShip reported that a prototype system designed to control all of a vessel’s manoeuvring and mission functions, including maintaining compliance with collision regulations (COLREGS) has successfully completed 42 days of sea trials.

The technology was developed by US company Leidos and installed on a 9.75m work boat for tests conducted as part of the development of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) programme.

The testing of COLREGS compliance saw the workboat and one ‘interfering’ vessel in a variety of meeting, crossing, overtaking and transit scenarios in both simulation and on the water test events. Leidos reported that the ‘surrogate’ boat autonomously navigated through narrow channels avoiding navigation aids and submerged hazards and safely avoided surface ships it encountered along the route.

Meanwhile in the UK, the Minister for Portsmouth (who knew there was one of those?) Matthew Hancock opened The Centre for Maritime Intelligence Systems which brings together academics, scientists, engineers and naval specialists to research unmanned autonomous vessels.

The centre will act as a test bed for new systems and technology that can be exported around the world for applications such as environmental monitoring, gas exploration or underwater mine clearance according to Mr Hancock. The CMIS will create a testing environment and conduct initial de-risking and proof of concept activities as part of a demonstration programme.

Ebola support for at-risk seafarers

Communications provider KVH, will offer training subsidiary Videotel’s training resources on Ebola, free of charge to mariners, in an effort to increase awareness of prevention measures against the virus.

KVH has created a website,, for mariners to download the free video and an accompanying workbook and vessels subscribing to KVH’s IP-MobileCast service will also automatically receive the video for viewing on-board.

‘Ebola – Staying Safe’ is a 15-minute training programme produced by Videotel in association with Steamship Mutual P&I Club and a panel of medical and subject matter experts.

The video, which includes footage from West Africa and was produced in the last eight weeks to ensure it includes recent information, explains what Ebola is, what its symptoms are, and how the virus spreads. It outlines the ways in which crew members can protect themselves, and also what steps Masters, ship owners, and ship managers can take to keep crew members safe from harm.

VSAT communications demystified

Maritime computer-based training provider Seagull Maritime has teamed up with lobby group Global VSAT Forum (GVF) to design a training and certification programme for advanced onboard communications systems.

The programme will consist of GVF’s SatProf interactive training, delivered through Seagull Maritime’s existing platform, which is currently installed on around 9,000 commercial vessels.

Several groups including InterManager have been lobbying for tools to help users onboard ship understand the potential of VSAT, which is a more complex communications suite than the Inmarsat or Iridium systems that many mariners are used to.

“Everything from navigation and asset tracking to seafarer health and safety can be more effectively provided by ensuring that training is available for the operation of maritime satellite systems,” said Seagull Maritime Managing Director Roger Ringstad.

The GVF Marine Satcom learning and certification modules will be made available to seafarers through the Seagull Maritime global training system. Seafarers who successfully complete the training courses will receive GVF Marine Satcom Operator Specialist certification.

BV goes beneath the waves

Classification society Bureau Veritas has developed a voluntary notation designed to assist shipbuilders and operators reduce underwater noise from their ships.

The URN notation aims to control and limit the environmental impact on marine fauna from self-propelled vessels and provide a standard and a system to assess compliance with specific vessel requirements for underwater radiated noise, BV said.

It covers both shallow and deepwater conditions, sets out a dedicated comprehensive measurement procedure, explains how to manage measurement uncertainties and sets specific underwater noise level requirements

One of the main drivers of the notation is to support owners in fulfilling the requirements of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, which aims to improve conditions in European waters by proposing mitigation solutions over the next six years.

The IMO has also considered the issue of underwater noise and Jean-Francois Segretain, Technical Director, Bureau Veritas Marine & Offshore division suggested that this type of ‘pollution’ could be among the next area examined by regulators.

“This [notation] makes commercial sense. Reducing underwater noise directly contributes to reduced noise and vibration levels on board, which improves passenger and crew comfort. There is also a strong link between fuel efficiency and noise. Quieter ships burn less and we can help make ships quieter and so more efficient,” he said.

EU presses ahead with CO2 emissions monitoring

The shipping sector will be required to monitor its carbon emissions under a law agreed by the European Union and intended as a first step towards tackling shipping as a growing source of climate change.

The law stops short of including shipping in the EU’s Emissions Trading System, which is the flagship tool for cutting pollution – despite having met so far with limited success –  but the move is considered a step in that direction.

The law introduces a mechanism for monitoring, reporting and checking shipping emissions building on the October agreement on new targets to tackle climate change and a precursor to UN efforts to seal a global pact in 2015. Under the terms of the law, all vessels, both EU and non-EU flag will be required to monitor their carbon emissions in EU waters after 2018.

But the decision by the EU to act unilaterally was criticised by the International Chamber of Shipping which said it was ‘disappointed and concerned’ that the system may be incompatible with the IMO’s global plans, jeopardising future negotiations and causing problems for developing countries such as China and India for whom additional CO2 regulations are a politically sensitive issue.

Like other shipping organisations, the ICS supports a global IMO-mandated system of monitoring, reporting and verification but has long feared a split between an EU impatient at lack of progress and an IMO required to agree terms that would be binding world-wide.

Reuters reported that four EU nations – Greece, Cyprus, Malta and Poland – had voted against the law, but this had not been enough to block it. Years of debate in the IMO and at the UN have failed to come up with a way of including shipping emissions in mandatory pollution curbs despite the Kyoto Protocol establishing the IMO as the global body with responsibility for their management.

According to the IMO, international shipping accounts for around 3% of the world’s emissions of carbon dioxide, a share which could increase to 18% by 2050 if regulation to curb it is not in place. Though the recession, following the global financial crisis, has seen emissions level plateau.

Environmental groups on the other hand say the EU law is too weak because it only measures emissions rather than providing any means of either preventing or reducing them.

This woman wants you to order more boxships

Her online empire might be struggling with the kind of debt load with which a shipping company would sympathise, but Hollywood A-List actress Gwyneth Paltrow has given a helpful plug to the world’s largest shipping line.

Among the Gift Guide recommendations for 12-14 year-olds on her e-commerce website Goop – alongside sequinned shorts, Golden Goose sneakers and the ubiquitous iPad mini – is the Maersk Line Triple E Lego model, which was also a hot item on last year’s Christmas lists.

Goop’s aim is to be an ‘eminent lifestyle publication, dedicated to informing and positively inspiring its audience which gives readers exclusive access to recipes, travel guides, fashion, wellness tips, cultural notes and more’. There was no indication of Gwyneth’s view on how long West Coast port disruptions would last or whether the next round of GRIs on the Asia-NWE route could be made to stick.