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SEA-AHED - making sailing safer


Improved safety at sea for cruise ship passengers and crews will be the outcome of a research and development project, funded with the help of over €1.7m (euros) from the EU’s Framework Programme.

SEA-AHED (Simulation environment and advisory system for on-board help, and estimation of manoeuvring performance during design) was a 39-month project to produce a technology system that can predict the course of cruise ships within 10 to 20 metres - far more accurately than anything currently available commercially.

Today’s super-cruisers have the capacity to carry over 4,000 people so any collision has the potential to produce unprecedented carnage. SEA-AHED can help to significantly reduce the risk of this happening and can also contribute directly to safety through on-board training. It is capable of providing situational awareness and predicting the behaviour of the vessel in situations where some machinery fails. Safety of both the passengers and the ship makes it essential that the pilot be given the best possible information regarding the consequences of any manoeuvring actions. It also demands that he be automatically alerted with all speed in case of looming hazards.

“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, etc. - is a frustratingly long one”, says Rory Doyle, the project coordinator with 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 & direction and prevailing currents. So, the art of manoeuvring a ship, particularly in restricted waters, is a very difficult one involving the mental ability to predict accurately in real-time the motion of a very large vessel subject to external actions. Very little can be done to change a course of action once it has been committed to, even if the pilot realises that he has made a mistake. As such, errors are potentially devastating, particularly with passenger ships.

SEA-AHED, developed by six partners in the UK, Germany, Italy and Poland, had three principal objectives:

  • Creation of systems to enable shipyards and ship owners to assess the manoeuvring characteristics of vessels at an early stage of design,
  • Development of a navigational aid displaying in real-time the vessels current position together with future predicted or simulated positions and capable of advising the pilot of potential hazards.
  • Development of a manoeuvring training aid that will allow crews to replay previous manoeuvres and demonstrate the effects of alternate actions on the basis of real environmental information.

The system takes account of wind speed, wind direction, water depth, currents, actual rudder angles, demanded rudder angles, thruster performances, etc. and consider the non-linear and time-varying manoeuvring characteristics of the vessel. It also exploits very recent advances in aerospace and robotics applications using a technique called the Julier-Ulhmann filter.

Current systems generally rely on constant rate models that do not provide the accuracy necessary for safe operation and the project consortium claim that, for the non-linear models under consideration, SEA-AHED far outperforms the industry standard extended Kalman Filter. “Safety has to be the number one priority for cruise ships with the continually growing number of passengers”, says Cliff Funnell Cliff Funnell, FP6UK National Contact Point for Surface Transport (Maritime). “SEA-AHED is an excellent example of the type of project Framework Funding is provided for and, as this contributed 50 per cent of the total €3.4 m (euros) project cost, it seems fair to assume that without it the project would not have been viable.

“The current Framework Programme (FP6) runs until 2006 and organisations wanting free, easy to access, information on the €19bn of funding available to support internationally collaborative R&D should log on to or call central telephone support on 0870 600 6080.”

Project partners are predicting that SEA-AHED will create the demand for at least two more vessels - expected to secure around 2,300 jobs – as well as bringing considerable commercial benefits throughout the industry. This includes:

  • The system developers expect In excess of a 300% return in research investment in the 5 years following the completion of the project from direct sales.
  • Cruise ship operators can expect a reduction of approximately 5m euros per ship in terms of repair costs over a five-year period.
  • Shipbuilders can expect 0.3m euros per vessel in direct benefits through increased efficiency in the design process, and increased profit due to the ordering of more vessels (approximately 25m euros per vessel) due to increased demand for a product that will better match customer needs.

The possibilities opened up by research on the SEA-AHED project may also be extended to bulk carriers, tankers, container ships, Roll On-Roll Off and fast ferries by lending itself towards the development of intelligent cruise control, and automatic docking for these large vessels.

Other possibilities for future research include prediction and obstacle avoidance for commercial fixed wing aircraft, intelligent cruise control for cars, and automated underwater vehicles.

Dave Sanders | alfa
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