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Fugro launches new generation of uncrewed surface vessels

Fugro’s Blue Essence, an offshore certified uncrewed surface vessel (USV) with an electric remotely operated vehicle (eROV), will begin its first project in the Netherlands.

WGIC Secretariat November 10, 2021
Fugro launches new generation of uncrewed surface vessels in the Netherlands

The Blue Essence is a double blessing for geospatial tech. Not only does it send out hydrographic and geospatial data using satellite communication, the boat itself is also controlled using satellite communications. It will begin its first project in the Netherlands. During operations an onshore remote operations centre (ROC) controls the vessel via a satellite connection. It will inspect offshore assets, construction support services, and undertake hydrographic and geophysical surveys. Cloud-based data processing allows near real-time data delivery, leading to faster and more informed decision making.

World premiere

Life jackets required during the launch of Fugro’s Blue essence. Ivar Josselin de Jong on Dutch national radio NOS Radio 1.

During the official launch, Ivar de Josselin de Jong, Global Director Remote Inspection at Fugro, answered questions by the press. He explained that current legislation mandates a guard vessel to be present at all times. “Remember: this is a first, it’s a world premiere. Port of Rotterdam has been really cooperative to make this possible. Right now, we are in the process of showing the world that it is actually real, that it is actually safe to operate remotely.” The sensors are placed in a seperate robotic submarine. The remote crew operates it seperately from the boat. It analyses the bottom of the sea on its own, while still attached to the vessel with a cable.

Careful preparation of all parties involved

René de Vries, Harbour Master of the Rotterdam Port Authority, said: “We welcome this special vessel in our port. It’s the first time a remotely controlled uncrewed vessel will go to the North Sea from the port of Rotterdam to carry out a project without any personnel on board. We are proud that this project will be executed safely due to the careful preparation of all parties involved. We expect the development of digitalisation in the shipping sector will improve the safety and accessibility of the Rotterdam port.”

Functioning on its own

Camera stills from Fugro’s unmanned Blue Essence.

All regular communication facilities you’ll find on the bridge of a ship are there. The only thing that’s different, is the remote location of the crew. Above all this, the Blue Essence has an on-board speaker. The remote crew can turn it on to let third parties know that this ‘emtpy ship’ is actually in control. The Blue Essence typically functions on its own around ten days in a row. It will return to the harbour when it needs re-charging and re-fueling. Currently, those docks usually reside in traditional harbours. In the foreseeable future, these can operate remotely as well.

Huge benefits

Lex Veerhuis, Development Manager New Business at Fugro: “We are already in touch with offshore wind park operators on this. Indeed, they are thinking along the lines of the availability of electricity coming out of their wind mills.” When the Blue Essence is operating on its own, huge benefits manifest themselves in carbon emissions. “With no human beings on board, there’s less weight, less provisions and, consequently, less amounts of fuel on board”, said Lex Veerhuis. While bystanders spotted a sign on the boat saying ‘diesel’, energy savings can add up to 95 per cent when compared to traditional survey methods.

Expanding fleet

Erik-Jan Bijvank, Group Director Europe and Africa at Fugro, said: “Fugro is a leader in the operation of USVs. Since 2020, Fugro has been deploying its Blue Shadow USV fleet for medium- to large-scale hydrographic survey applications. Recently, Fugro’s first Blue Essence has completed its first remote inspection, in Asia Pacific. I am excited that we now also have this newest generation of USVs available for European clients. Over the coming years, Fugro will further expand its fleet of USVs for safer, more sustainable solutions for marine operations.”