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Monday, June 15, 2020 

Mitsui OSK Lines (MOL), two of its group companies, and other members of its unmanned shipping consortium have jointly applied to the Nippon Foundation to fund demonstration voyages to test underlying technologies for autonomous sailing within fiscal year 2020.

In cooperation with Mitsui E&S Shipbuilding and Furuno Electric, the MOL Group has been developing technologies for autonomous sailing, and plans to conduct demonstration voyages from unberthing to berthing. Support from Nippon Foundation will enable the demonstration tests to start later in 2020.

The demonstration voyages will be conducted with an MOL Ferry-owned/operated large-scale coastal ferry and a coastal containership owned by Imoto Corporation and operated by Imoto Lines, using surrounding cognitive technology based on Furuno Electric-developed and owned sensors and Mitsui E&S-developed/owned ship handling for avoidance and auto berthing/unberthing technologies. MOL Marine will initially conduct autonomous functions using a simulator. In addition, mooring support technology using a drone, developed by Sekido, will be introduced in the demonstration voyage of the coastal containership.

MOL will oversee the programme and conduct risk assessments, drawing upon its accumulated expertise in ship operations management. It hopes to achieve two aims—further enhancement of safe operation by using new underlying technologies, and reduction of crewmembers' workload.

The programme targets coastal shipping, a key element of Japan's logistics system, transporting about 40% of the nation's domestic cargo and about 80% of basic industrial commodities on a ton-kilometre basis. However, the coastal shipping sector is heavily dependent on an aging workforce. The two vessel types - a 749t containership and a 10,000t-plus car ferry have been selected as representative of the major types of vessels involved in coastal shipping, operating in a severe work environment. The company believes that autonomous sailing can address safety issues and reduce human errors, which contribute to about 70% of marine accidents.

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