The Lookout - Lewis Brisbois' Marine & Energy Newsletter - June 2022

The Lookout - Trends to Watch: Autonomous Ships, Offshore Wind Industry

(June 2022) - In this article - part of Lewis Brisbois' Marine & Energy newsletter, The Lookout - San Francisco Partner David E. Russo provides some thoughts on two areas of importance to the maritime industry - automonomous ships and offshore wind development.

Autonomous Ships Continue Their Progress

Two recent voyages have shown the progress that’s been made with autonomous technology – and some of the limits still being experienced. The vessel known as the MAYFLOWER had an Atlantic crossing from the United Kingdom to Canada in late-April 2022. It was a 40-day, 3,500-mile transit. The vessel arrived in Nova Scotia, but it had planned to reach Virginia. The voyage saw multiple technical issues delay or divert the vessel in transit. Early in the crossing, the MAYFLOWER was diverted to the Azores for in-person repairs because of a switch failure. An issue with the charging circuit for the generator starter batteries was the ultimate cause of the vessel ending its voyage in Halifax, Nova Scotia, rather than Virginia. This was the second attempt by this vessel to cross the Atlantic. The first planned transit, in 2021, was canceled because of other technical issues.

There was also a notable transit for the tanker ship PRISM COURAGE, which made a 33-day journey from Texas to South Korea in late-May 2022. The transit across the open ocean was mostly done without intervention from the crew, but human navigation became necessary near ports, in crowded sections of the transit, and at choke points like the Panama Canal.

These recent voyages demonstrate that efforts and progress are still being made, but that a lot more needs to be done before we will see autonomous navigation on a regular basis.

The Growing Offshore Wind Industry

In our last newsletter, we wrote about the ongoing development of an offshore wind industry and its likely impacts on maritime law – the growth trend continues. Earlier this year, the U.S Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management completed an auction of a maritime lease area located 27 nautical miles off the New York / New Jersey coastline. The auction winner, Total Energies (a French company), has announced plans to develop a three-gigawatt offshore wind farm that could power nearly 1 million homes.

For many of these wind farms, the turbines will have a 20-to-25-year useful life. Thus, both construction and maintenance will be key issues for the industry. Already, several major providers of offshore vessels are contracting with wind farm developers for their services. All of this points to the need for increased employment in the sea-faring industry, at a time when the industry has seen a decline in young people joining the trade. This is a deficit that will have to be addressed in the coming years.


David E. Russo, Partner, San Francisco

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