Unmanned vessel milestone

USV Maxlimer's docking in Oostende marked yet another milestone in the development of USVs USV Maxlimer's docking in Oostende marked yet another milestone in the rapid development of USVs

SEA-KIT, a 12m-long uncrewed surface vessel (USV) docked in the Belgian port city of Oostende in May following a successful transit from West Mersea, UK.

The voyage, which lasted 22 hours, represents the first commercial crossing of the North Sea by an autonomous vessel, and marks a significant breakthrough in uncrewed ocean transit.

The SEA-KIT USV arrived at Oostende at 09:00 CEST on Tuesday 7 May, where it was welcomed by Belgian customs officers, who took delivery of a box of oysters caught around Mersea Island that SEA-KIT had delivered from its West Mersea point of departure. The box weighed around 5kg – just a fraction of the current model’s maximum payload of up to 2.5 tonnes.

The SEA-KIT vessel USV Maxlimer is operated by SEA-KIT International Ltd, and is designed and developed by Hushcraft Ltd, based in Tollesbury, Essex. SEA-KIT’s unique modular design means that it can be easily and cost effectively configured to a wide range of maritime tasks for various sectors. The vessel can be transported in a single 40ft container, drastically reducing the mobilisation costs, and being truly uncrewed means SEA-KIT can conduct its missions without placing any human personnel in harm’s way and at significantly reduced rate.

The mission was designed to showcase SEA-KIT’s uncrewed navigation capabilities through GPS and satellite communication, including marine traffic avoidance in what is one of the world’s busiest shipping routes.

With the successful completion of the UK-to-Belgium mission, SEA-KIT’s voyage demonstrates an effective model for international communication and cooperation in the field of uncrewed shipping. The Global Situational Awareness via Internet (G-SAVI) communications and control system allows an operator to remotely access CCTV footage, thermal imaging and radar through SEA-KIT, as well as listen live to the vessel’s surroundings and communicate with others in the vicinity.

“This voyage has been months in the making, and to see it all come together today is amazing”, said Ben Simpson of SEA-KIT International Ltd. “It demonstrates not only the capacity of SEA-KIT and the robustness of the design, but the value and effectiveness of the cloud based communications technologies involved in uncrewed transit.” The UK-to-Belgium transit was made possible with the support of the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency, the UK Department for Transport, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, partners in Belgium, and the European Space Agency. With this voyage completed, the team behind the mission will now set their sights on higher goals to test the capabilities of the vessel.

By Jake Frith

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