Future of ships



Back in the late '90s Trico built a cat crew boat that was powered by two jet turbine engines, Stillwater River, worked out of Macae for Petrobras, last time I saw it was 07 or so, in a Morgan City boneyard, decaying.


I remember one of my early awaking to the Offshore reality, back in the mid-1970’s
I was waiting for a rig move on a rig in the Java Sea, when I overheard the Companyman talking to a boat arriving from base. It went something like this:
“When you get here, just come in close so I can have a look at what you have on your deck, in case there is something I want”.

I thought that a bit silly, so I asked the Barge Master if they didn’t get a manifest or something before the boats arrived in the field?; “Yes, but he doesn’t like to read them”.
I could fill pages with anecdotes from later experiences of the kind, all over the world.

4-5 year ago I was engaged to look at the logistic problems for an Oilco in Malaysia. I found that they were having a lot of wastage from boats running half empty, or returning with part of the cargo still onboard, as well as a spending a lot of time idling in the field, waiting for the rigs and platforms to call them alongside.
Another problem was that they had a large number of small and inefficient AHTS on hire, mainly used to make cargo runs and assisting on rig and barge moves.

It was quite common to have 3-4 boats waiting for days at the end if a rig move, two with empty deck to assist the rig on approach and one or two with deck load (Spud materials).
Usually the boat with empty decks would either wait for days before delivering their bulk and liquid load, or they would return to base with it still on board, because there where urgent need for some material or another

I proposed to charter two large modern PSVs to run regular supply runs, leaving base on fixed days of the week, known to all suppliers and logistics coordinators and the people offshore.
On arrival in the fields (3) a semi-flexible turnaround route to be followed, but not left to the whims of anybody, (OIMs, Companymen, or others) If they hadn’t manage to deliver and take backload by the time they had to return to base, the boat would leave with whatever they had on board. My estimate was that it wouldn’t take long for both suppliers and receivers to learn to plan a bit ahead.

I had a big problem to explain to the Logistics Manager that a small and inefficient boat wasn’t cheaper then a big and efficient one, even though they burnt less fuel (at full speed) and was on lower dayrate. Especially so if you could put half the charter fleet off-hire due to better planning and efficiency.

Is that how they are doing it now?? NO WAY!!
It stranded on the different departments; Drilling, Operation and Construction, not being able to cooperate, each running separate boats and separate show.
The other thing was that less boats would mean less kickback to certain people in the Logistics department.

Did it bother me that they didn’t listen to my advise? Not at all. I got paid handsomely for the study and lost no sleep over their waste of money. (Name of Company shall remain with me)


Oh, that never ended… the idiots still can’t read a manifest in 2017. I do love it when everything is in connex boxes and I get to say, “You can look all you want, but if I can help you out at all, all the boxes are 10x10 and gray. Still need me to pull in for you to look at them?”


Back to subject.
A problem many here will agree with, but not too many is likely to face for many years yet:


Another article about both the peril and inevitability of autonomous ships in Splash 24/7 today:


Will there be autonomous, electric powered 50000 TEU Container ships by 2050??:

Let’s hope that the prediction of size at least is wrong.
Electric powered, as in electric motors powered by hydrogen fuel cells, and autonomous I think is inevitable, though.


How do we make the hydrogen?
Making hydrogen then using in a fuel cell is less efficient than using that same power to charge a battery to run your electric motor in the first place.
Sums dont seem to add up till all countries have free power then we dont care how we use it.
Battery cars beat fuel cell ones by a wide margin currently.
Could you put enough of either to drive a ship for a few weeks?
I think power density of diesel along with its drive train still beats them for long haul stuff.
Remember what powers an aircraft


Then Nikola comes along…


Agree power density is key. Doing E/R time you were told early on that a bucket of diesel is more powerful than a stick of dynamite.

The game changer is hydrogen, solar/wind and distributed storage. Shipping majors are starting to switch to LNG as a step change that will take a generation. The next step will be hydrogen. This solves all the restrictions for ECAs.


LNG turbines will the power for autonomous ships in my book
Hydrogen might not ever suceed


Hydrogen produced from renewable energy is the only zero emission fuel, other than nuclear, that is suitable for powering ships on ocean crossings.

Yes it has less power density than diesel, but a lot more than batteries. It has a lot of other advantages though.
That Hydrogen is more dangerous as a fuel than others is a myth though. Handled correctly it is actually less dangerous:

One of the problems with nearly all renewable energy is that it is not always available, or predictable, thus storage is a major issue.
How to store energy when it is excess for use when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine?
Or when the need is in a different place from the source of hydro electricity? (Without expensive power transport lines/cables)
A new HV cable will be installed between Denmark and UK to export power from Denmark, where there are frequently excess of renewable power:

In the future Hydrogen will be produced from such access power and used to power cars, ships and power stations that kicks in when there is a shortage.

We are talking FUTURE here, not present. But you have to prepare for that future, not say it can’t be done.


I think the autonomous issue is not constrained by renewable s so not sure if it factors into it.
Very few countries could replace oil with hydrogen without buring lots more coal


The sun shines and/or the wind blows in most countries. Even your (and mine) adopted home of Singapore is able to produce a lot of solar power by utilizing roof spaces and water reservoirs:

But there are other options as well; Hydro power, Thermal power, Ocean current and Tidal power, Wave power to mention the most obvious.


Distributed storage is part of the answer levelling out the peaks:



Yes batteries for standby power in case of a main power interruption is feasible, but it would take a lot of Energy Barns to power a 22000 TEU container ship across the Pacific.

BTW; What do they do with excess power after the battery bank is fully charged and no disruption occure? Maybe shut down the power source for an hour to drain the batteries and start the cycle all over again?

Wouldn’t it be better to use the excess power to produce Hydrogen and store enough to power fuel cell for the same time on site. Surplus Hydrogen could be sold to power busses, trucks and ferries etc. in the area, or even ships.


Batteries? Y’all talking about large battery installations?


We have a problem here so basic that it defys belief. Has anyone seen a fully automatic pilot ladder or a pilot ladder accomodation ladder that deploys at a touch of a button? The mooring crew will also have to board in time to break out mooring lines before the vessel approachs the berth. What pilot is going to board without a responsible officer at the top of the boarding area?
A ship rarely sails with all systems working 100%. The automated ship will require the same attention as a space probe which will be difficult in third world ports.
In a US port Homeland Security will insist on Security Guards be hired at a cost of at least $9000 per diem.
The best engineers that I have sailed with had completed a fitting and turning apprenticeship of 4 years in a heavy marine industry before obtaining a third engineers licence. After 18 months seatime they could attend a marine school and after six months concentrated study sit exams which included oral exams for second engineer. Returning to sea for another 18 months, then school and exams for a chief engineer ticket completed the qualifications.
On many shipping companies a newly minted chief engineer sailed as the third engineer and worked his way up.
Electricians with very good electronic knowledge are also an asset. One I had was able to repair the Sat B on a voyage to the US which without it would have meant using a Sat C and a third party to complete the required documentation.
He repaired the unit using spares from another unrelated piece of equipment.


Sounds nice as a throway quip but what is the volume of a ton of hydrogen vs a ton of lithium batteries?

BTW, I think the future of ships is bright, the future of seafarers not so bright.


Sp.g. of liquid Hydrogen is: 70.8 kg/m³

Here is more about Hydrogen as an automotive fuel:

To scale this up power a 22000 TEU Container ship on a 20 day voyage is obviously a challenge, but now being developed. Let’s first start with a ship on short trips and take it from there.


More to the point, how much of the vessel volume is required for “fuel” storage?

Diesel fuel contains around 11,000 Watt hours per liter.
Liquid hydrogen contains around 2600 Watt hours per liter
LNG contains around 6100 Watt hours per liter
Li Ion batteries contain between 250 and 690 Watt hours per liter
LiFePO4 batteries contain around 100 Watt hours per liter

How big does a ship have to be to hold enough “fuel” to go from A to B? It looks like we are back to the very early days of steamboats when they had a hard time carrying enough wood or coal to get out of their own way.