Wilhelmsen completes offshore drone delivery pilot

Wilhelmsen and Airbus have completed the first-ever shore-to-ship drone delivery during a pilot project in Singapore. The Norwegian shipping company sees a bright future for drones in its ships service business unit as the drones cut delivery costs for a variety of small, time-critical items by 90%. 

Lifting off from Marina South Pier in Singapore with 3D printed consumables from Wilhelmsen’s onshore 3D printing micro-factory, the Airbus Skyways drone navigated autonomously along pre-determined ‘aerial-corridors’ in its 1.5km flight to Eastern Working Anchorage. The drone landed on the deck of the Swire Pacific Offshore (SPO)’s Anchor Handling Tug Supply (AHTS) vessel, M/V Pacific Centurion and deposited its 1.5kg cargo without a hitch before returning to its base. The entire delivery, from take-off towards the vessel, to landing back at base, took just ten minutes.

Though small drone delivery trials from tugboat to ship have been conducted before by a number of shipping companies and service providers, shore-to-ship delivery of this range and scope has never been explored, prior to this trial.

Operation

Operations began with a toolbox meeting with the Wilhelmsen, Airbus and SPO crew to ensure that the risk assessment was understood by all parties. With final safety checks completed, Wilhelmsen’s Marina South Pier team loaded the drone. Supported by spotters stationed on board the vessel deck to ensure the safety of the crew and vessel, the drone took off towards the vessel, landing on the dedicated area on the main deck where the parcel was retrieved by the officer on board.

Offering a more cost effective, quicker and safer means of delivering, small, time-critical items to vessels, Wilhelmsen sees delivery by drone, rather than launch boat, as part and parcel of their continued evolution of the agency business.
Less labour dependent than delivery via launch, autonomous Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) can potentially reduce delivery costs by up to 90% in some ports and have a smaller carbon footprint than launch boats.

Commenting on the successful first delivery flight, Marius Johansen, VP Commercial, Wilhelmsen Ships Agency says: “Delivery of essential spares, medical supplies and cash to Master via launch boat, is an established part of our portfolio of husbandry services, which we provide day in and day out, in ports all over the world. Modern technology such as Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), is just a new tool, albeit a very cool one, with which we can push our industry ever forward and improve how we serve our customers.”

Offshore vessels

Signing a unique MOU with aeronautics company Airbus in June 2018, Wilhelmsen was tasked with setting up the necessary maritime and port operations, gaining relevant approvals from port authorities, with Airbus, the overall Skyways system architect and provider, contributing its expertise in aeronautical vertical lift solutions to develop the drone for shore-to-ship deliveries.

“We are thrilled to launch the first trial of its kind in the maritime world. Today’s accomplishment is a culmination of months of intense preparation by our dedicated team, and the strong collaboration with our partner, as we pursue new terrain in the maritime industry,” says Leo Jeoh, Airbus Skyways Lead.

3 kilometer

The ongoing pilot trial will for now, focus on offshore supply vessels at anchorage 1.5km from the pier. With operational safety as a priority, flights will be limited to this distance for the time being, before the flight range is gradually extended to as far as 3km from the shore.

A number of customers have already committed to the project including, Optimum Marine Management, Fleet Management, Zeaborn Ship Management, Pola East, SK Shipping, and sister company Wilhelmsen Ship Management.

Author: Tobias Pieffers

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