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South Korea today launched a new containership which is set to achieve new milestones in the efforts to develop autonomous shipping. The country’s Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries is highlighting the vessel as the first large, ocean-going ship designed for Level 3 autonomous shipping and they plan to launch the first long-distance international demonstrations of autonomous shipping with this vessel later this year.

At today’s ceremony shipbuilder Hyundai Mipo Dockyard in Ulsan, South Korea marked the float out and naming of the vessel. She is the Pos Singapore built for Pan Ocean. Ordered in 2022, the vessel is 564 feet (172 meters) in length with a capacity of 1,800 TEU. Registered in Liberia, the 22,200 dwt containership is scheduled to be delivered at the end of this month and then will begin outfitting and testing the autonomous system.

The South Korean government highlights that it has designated autonomous vessels as a core initiative in its Advanced Maritime Mobility Development Strategy announced in November 2023. This project for autonomous shipping was launched in 2020 with the government committing more than $120 million for the research and development of the technology.

A public-private partnership was launched with shipbuilding and shipping along with the technology industry. According to the ministry, this system is designed to achieve IMO Level 3, meaning the ship can operate autonomously without crew onboard. Operations will be conducted fully by remote control.

From the design stage of the containership, Pan Ocean and Hyundai Mipo completed preliminary preparations to install the autonomous navigation system, which will now be installed. The system integrates autonomous navigation, digital-based agency monitoring, communication, and security technology.

The Korean industry has been testing a range of autonomous systems over the past few years. In 2022, Hyundai conducted what was called the world’s first transoceanic voyage of a large merchant ship employing autonomous navigation technologies. The system was fitted aboard a 97,500 dwt LNG carrier and undertook a more than 11,000 nautical mile crossing of the Pacific.

Demonstrations of the latest version of the technology started in 2023 aboard a smaller, domestic ship, Ocean Nuri (69 tons). The plan calls for the Pos Singapore to undertake its first demonstrations on an international route beginning in September 2024.