EU project plots a course for safer cruise ship manoeuvres

November 15, 2004

Brussels, 12 Nov 2004

An international research project, part funded by the EU's Fifth Framework Programme (FP5), has developed a computerised prediction system that can forewarn cruise ship pilots of the consequences of a particular manoeuvre more accurately than anything currently on the market.

The SEA-AHED project (simulation environment and advisory system for on-board help, and estimation of manoeuvring performance during design) received 1.7 million euro under the Growth priority of FP5. It brought together six industry and research partners from four EU countries - the UK, Germany, Italy and Poland.

By April, after 39 months of work, the team of researchers had developed a system that is capable of predicting the behaviour of large vessels to within 20 to 30 metres, while also taking account of variables such as mechanical failures, wind speed and currents. This level of accuracy, they claim, far outperforms the industry standard, and the team predicts it will see a 300 per cent return on total research investment through direct sales of the system within five years.

'Large ships have a very great inertia, and the time they take to respond to a manoeuvring action - be it rudder angle, thruster power, rpm [revolutions per minute], etc. - is a frustratingly long one,' explains Rory Doyle, project coordinator from engineering consultants British Maritime Technology. 'Furthermore, during all that intervening time ships are affected in very complex ways by large numbers of external factors, such as wind speed and direction and prevailing currents.'

Once the pilot of a large cruise ship commits to a course of action very little can be done to change it, even if they realise that a mistake has been made. Given the potentially disastrous consequences of an error at sea, a real-time computerised system for predicting the outcome of a manoeuvre is an invaluable decision making tool.

As well as making life easier for ships' pilots, the SEA-AHED partners have also created a package that allows shipyards and ship owners to assess the handling capabilities of a vessel at an early stage in its design. A training aid has also been developed that can replay previous manoeuvres and demonstrate the effects that an alternate course of action would have had, based on actual environmental data.

On top of predictions of a tidy profit through sales in the medium term, the team says that cruise ship operators can expect to see a reduction in repair costs of around 5 million euro per ship over a five year period, while shipbuilders could save up to 0.3 million euros per vessel through increased efficiency in the design process.

The benefits delivered by the SEA-AHED project could well be extended to cover bulk carriers, tankers, container ships and ferries, through the development of intelligent cruise control and automated docking systems. Other avenues of research opened up by the project could target obstacle avoidance software for commercial aircraft and intelligent cruise control systems for cars.

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