China's first autonomous container vessel runs into heavy weather

Nov 16 | 2021

China’s first autonomous container vessel, AV Zhi Fei, entered service in October and has already run into some heavy weather at the hands of the US unions.

AV Zhi Fei under way

According to an article in Insurance Marine News, the president of the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) in the US, Harold Daggett, has said that autonomous ships will not be unloaded at US ports by his members.

Daggett said that workers were under threat from what he called ‘greedy’ companies only interested in making money and eliminating the workers who helped them build their success. “It’s got to stop,” he said.

In 2018, Daggett negotiated a six-year agreement with United States Maritime Alliance (USMX) that prevented any automation or automated equipment at ILA ports. In exchange the ILA pledged to keep productivity levels above what automated equipment could produce. The ILA says that, apart from lower production levels due to the worldwide COVID pandemic, it has kept its promise and kept its members working. “The ILA will not work a containership without a crew aboard,” said Daggett.

Meanwhile, the 300 TEU capacity vessel will serve along a short-sea route between Dongjiakou and Qingdao on China’s east coast. The vessel was developed by smart ship technology group Navigation Brilliance in collaboration with the China Waterborne Transport Research Institute and Dalian Maritime University and built at the Yangfan shipyard in Qingdao.

The container ship is capable of autonomous navigation at a maximum speed of 12 knots. The first autonomous containership built, MV Yara Birkeland , first reported in The Mover in January 2018, is currently undergoing testing and preparations before its launching before the end of the year. It is a zero-emission, electrical-powered autonomous ship with a 120 TEU capacity.  Watch a video about it here.

Photo: AV Zhi Fei