In 2021, one of the world’s largest container ships ran aground in the Suez Canal, blocking one of the main gateways to global trade, with daily trade estimated at $9.6 billion . Accidents like the one the ship was involved in back then Never given They are more common than you might think. Furthermore, they help to explain the motivation behind EU research projects aimed at improving maritime security.
In 2022, according to the global insurer Allianzten cargo ships were lost at sea. While 90% of the world’s goods are transported by sea, maritime accidents can be devastating on a global scale, hindering trade, damaging the environment and putting human lives at risk.
“Anyone who reads this comment of mine will, for example, be wearing something that was once carried by a ship,” says Jorgen Grindevoll, CEO of Ladar, a British company that develops anti-collision technology for ships and maritime infrastructure . “The fact that a ship is having problems can be very disruptive,” says Grindevoll, who is also a ship captain.
Grindevoll took part in an EU-funded research project aimed at developing a “watch that never sleeps”: sensor technology that seeks to reduce the risk of ships colliding with other vessels or floating objects. The project, called MARINE, ends after almost three years of duration. Its participants include Ladar, the Cypriot naval technology company Offshore Monitoring, which also served as project coordinator, the Norwegian sensor technology company Hjelmstad and the British company Global Maritime Services, as well as captains and navigation officers .
According to Jena Dover, business development manager at Global Maritime Services, the research team analyzed several major ship accidents and found that almost half of them were collisions, and of those, 59% were due to human error. “It shows the scale of the problem,” Dover says.
MARINA’s lasers, high-definition cameras and thermal imaging systems are responsible for detecting floating objects such as containers, wooden planks, boats and fishing gear so that navigation officers can detect possible threats on the water surface, their main blind spot. An artificial intelligence algorithm can automatically detect, recognize and monitor objects and alert the crew of any potential threats. This is much more than the best technology available on the market currently allows.
“Today, a ship can scan the seabed with sonar and detect anything above the water with radar,” says Grindevoll. “However, there is a blind spot on the surface, and that’s what we’re trying to solve.”
In the worst case scenario, when a ship runs aground, it is crucial to limit the damage to save lives and protect equipment. This is the objective of TO BURST, another EU-funded project. The project, which ended in November 2022 after three and a half years of operation, proposed improvements in ship design to limit flood damage to damaged vessels.
“There are still many aspects where our designs and procedures could be safer,” says Stephan Wurst, managing partner of BALance Technology Consulting, the German company that led the project. For example, damage caused by a grounding (when a ship’s hull hits the seabed) can be devastating.
In 2012, the cruise ship made a stopover Costa Concordia It came too close to the Italian island of Giglio and crashed into the rocks. The accident cost the lives of 32 people, caused the partial sinking of the ship and required a rescue operation which cost 1.5 billion euros.
“We focused on improving the design principles to keep water from getting everywhere, but also how to improve evacuation and safety procedures,” says Wurst. Computer simulations of how ships sink, as well as the simulated sinking of model ships in a controlled environment, helped the research group determine where these improvements should be made.
As part of the project, a detailed list of recommendations was submitted to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the governing body for the maritime sector. Wurst says these recommendations range from blocking the entry of water into a ship with watertight barriers and doors in the hull, to plugging holes with foam. While the proposals are still being evaluated by the IMO, project participants, including Finnish shipyard Meyer Turku and British cruise line Carnival, are already applying the knowledge gained to their new ships. “Our research is not limited to a theoretical level,” explains Wurst. “What is learned through this project can truly save lives. »
At the same time, the surface exploration technology developed by MARINA is about to be commercialized. Grindevoll expects it to be ready for commercialization in early 2024. He says the technology may have applications that go beyond collision prevention, such as its use in unmanned ships and in ship monitoring. offshore installations, such as wind turbines. “We realized that our technology could also be used in other sectors,” says Grindevoll.
Article originally published in horizonthe European Union magazine on research and innovation.