South Korea names its 1st containership intended for autonomous operation


South Korea unveils its first container ship designed for autonomous operations.

© Hyundai Mipo Dockyard

South Korea has launched its first container ship designed for autonomous operations.

Hyundai Mipo Dockyard, an affiliate of HD Hyundai Shipbuilding, simultaneously constructed two 1,800 TEU container ships, named Force Singapore and Force Laem Chabang, with Force Singapore being the nation’s inaugural autonomous operation demonstration ship.

The naming ceremony was held on the 8th of March 2024 at the Ulsan headquarters.

The vessels, ordered by South Korean shipping company Pan Ocean in April 2022, measure 172m in length, 27.4m in width, and 14.3m in height, and are capable of carrying 1,800 20-foot-long containers.

They are fitted with sulfur oxide reduction devices and ballast water treatment systems.

According to Hyundai Mipo, Force Singapore has a significant role as an autonomous operation demonstration ship, as it is poised to validate core technologies like intelligent navigation and engine automation systems developed in Korea. The ship is scheduled to carry out long-distance international demonstrations later this year.

This achievement aligns with the South Korean government’s initiative, as the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries and the Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Energy launched the ‘Autonomous Ship Technology Development Project Integrated Project Team’ in 2020. The ministries are supporting the development of key technologies and are conducting various crew safety tests on board Force Singapore to bolster safety, the shipyard said.

The goal is to achieve ‘level 3 autonomous operation,’ enabling remote control operation without onboard passengers.

“We hope that the demonstration vessel built this time will contribute to the development of domestic technology for autonomous operation and contribute to the development of Korea’s shipbuilding and shipping industry in the future,” an official from Hyundai Mipo Dockyard said.

Interest in the construction of autonomous ships has been driven by numerous benefits such as greater safety, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness in terms of construction and operation.

Specifically, the aim is to reduce the number of accidents caused by the human factor due to fatigue or inexperience.

As these unmanned vessels eliminate the need for crew accommodations, features like deck houses, crew lodging, and elements of ventilation, heating, and sewage systems can be streamlined or removed altogether. This not only reduces the ship’s weight but also leads to a more energy-efficient and fuel-saving mode of operation.

The consequent impact on ports is expected to be substantial, with potential gains in efficiency through faster turnaround times and 24/7 operations. However, this shift may necessitate adaptations in port infrastructure, such as the incorporation of automated handling systems and advanced communication technologies.

Additionally, safety and security enhancements, changes in the labor market, regulatory considerations, and environmental implications are all factors that will shape the evolving landscape of ports in the era of autonomous shipping.