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Tug Technology & Business

Tug Technology & Business

Singapore races ahead in LNG tugs and autonomous vessels

Thu 03 May 2018 by Martyn Wingrove

Singapore races ahead in LNG tugs and autonomous vessels
KST Liberty will have type-C ISO-certified LNG storage tanks on the main deck

Keppel Offshore & Marine has named Asia’s first dual-fuel tug and agreed to work with Maritime Port Authority of Singapore to jointly develop autonomous vessels

Singapore has taken a lead in Asia in the race for both producing LNG-fuelled tugs and developing unmanned port service vessels. Two milestones were reached by this Asian powerhouse in late April that will enable the city state to progress in marine and port services innovation.

Both of these events, announced on 25 April during Singapore Maritime Week, involved shipbuilding, conversion and offshore construction group Keppel Offshore & Marine and the Maritime Port Authority (MPA) of Singapore. These events also involve developing tug technology for greater operational efficiency, lower emissions and reduced operating costs.

Keppel Offshore & Marine subsidiary Keppel Singmarine christened Southeast Asia’s first LNG-fuelled tug at its Singapore shipyard. KST Liberty is a 32 m azimuthing stern drive (ASD) tug that has a 13 m moulded beam and up to 65 tonnes of bollard pull.

It will be operated by Keppel Smit Towage to provide ship escort and handling services in Singapore. It was built to Keppel’s proprietary design with dual-fuel engines that mean it will use diesel as a pilot and when gas is not available.

But when LNG can be supplied from a specialised bunkering facility, gas will replace diesel and be injected into the engine cylinders to reduce emissions from the tug.

Singapore’s permanent secretary at the Ministry of Transport, Loh Ngai Seng, witnessed the naming ceremony at Keppel Singmarine. Afterwards he said in a statement that this christening “marks an important milestone in Singapore’s journey to make LNG bunkering available at our port as early as 2020.” He added that this project was part of MPA’s LNG bunkering pilot programme, which provided S$2M (US$1.5M) of funding for this tug.

Keppel O&M managing director for gas and specialised vessels Abu Bakar explained that KST Liberty was designed for “economical operations with efficient fuel consumption, a simplified bunkering process, optimised deck space that increases the safety, comfort of the crew and for ease of operations.”

LNG fuel will be carried in containerised, type-C ISO-certified tanks on the main deck and re-fuelling will be conducted through truck-to-ship operations or by replacing the empty tanks with replenished ones. KST Liberty is equipped with a patented and compact LNG vaporiser for changing LNG into gas for injection.

When KST Liberty is operating on LNG fuel, it will be within IMO’s global cap of 0.5% on the sulphur content of marine fuel that comes into force on 1 January 2020, said Keppel Smit Towage managing director Romi Kaushal.

“It will have substantially reduced CO2 emissions relative to traditional tugs,” he explained in a statement. “The fitted LNG tanks on KST Liberty will increase our capabilities and allow for extended harbour operations.”

KST Liberty will also have better manoeuvrability than existing units. “It is more compact, compared to tugs of the same bollard pull,” Mr Kaushal explained.

LNG fuel will be supplied by Shell from its extensive production portfolio in Asia and Australia. Shell Eastern Petroleum and Keppel O&M have formed a joint venture, FueLNG, for LNG bunkering services at Jurong Port. This service will also be offered to other gas-fuelled vessels in Singapore.

Keppel Singmarine is also building a similar dual-fuel tug for Maju Maritime for delivery in Q2 this year. Keppel won the contract to build these two LNG-fuelled harbour tugs in Q4 2016. Keppel Smit Towage is a joint venture between Keppel and Smit Singapore, which is a part of Royal Boskalis Westminster. Maju Maritime is another joint venture between Keppel and Boskalis.

Autonomous future

In April, Singapore also took a stride to becoming a regional powerhouse in autonomous vessel development with an agreement between MPA, Keppel O&M and the Technology Centre for Offshore and Marine in Singapore (TCOMS).

This agreement will involve a combination of technologies and innovations to generate pilot projects and prototypes for a series of unmanned vessels. Together, they will initially focus on remote control of port service vessels, starting with tugs, for escort, berthing, mooring and towing.

MPA chief executive Andrew Tan said the partners will also test “interfaces between vessels and our future vessel traffic management systems”. Remote vessel monitoring and analytics for this programme will be provided by Keppel O&M’s VesselCare platform. This can be used for data consolidation, condition monitoring and subsequent maintenance and analytics of vessels.

Some of the potential commercial benefits from operating tugs remotely or autonomously are “safety, efficiency and costs” said Keppel O&M chief executive Chris Ong.

Another element of this agreement will involve creation of a digital twin of a tug. This will simulate vessel behaviour and assist in monitoring and controlling a vessel. TCOMS will provide coupled physical and numerical modelling and simulation that will be used to improve the predictability and control of the behaviour and response of the vessel.

“The behaviour of marine vessels in challenging operating conditions is complex and to some extent still poorly understood”

This visualisation and analytics tool will also help the partners optimise vessel design. TCOMS chief executive Chan Eng Soon said there are technical challenges to developing autonomous vessels that can be overcome through simulation.

“The behaviour of marine vessels in challenging operating conditions is complex and to some extent still poorly understood,” he said. “This is one key technical challenge that we seek to address, to ensure that autonomous vessels could operate safely and reliably while enhancing efficiency and productivity.”

Through this agreement, MPA intends to consider different applications in a regional harbour fleet including tugboats, pilot vessels and short-route ferries.

Vessel traffic management

MPA is also collaborating on a project to improve vessel traffic management in Singapore’s ports. It started working in Q1 2018 with Singapore Management University (SMU), Fujitsu Laboratories and Agency for Science, Technology and Research’s Institute of High Performance Computing (IHPC).

Together, they are developing artificial intelligence (AI) and data analytics to optimise traffic management in Singapore’s port and surrounding waters. They expect computer programs will forecast congestion and potential collisions, by identifying risk hotspots and monitoring ships, before they occur.

Information from these programs will be verified using real-world data. Outcomes of this research and the practical developments and experience gained through project trials will be integrated into Fujitsu’s future maritime solutions.

IHPC is contributing its capabilities in modelling, simulation and machine learning, while SMU provides large-scale multi-agent optimisation models and Fujitsu its data analytics and artificial intelligence technologies.


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