Technology group ABB has supported a trial where an ice-class passenger ferry was remotely piloted near Helsinki harbour in Finland.

The trial represents the next step in autonomous shipping and has seen the use of enhanced technologies developed by ABB for nearly all kinds of vessels.

Ice-class ferry Suomenlinna II was retrofitted with ABB’s new dynamic positioning system, ABB Ability Marine Pilot Control.

The vessel was steered from a land-based control centre in Helsinki.

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Helsinki City Transport was also involved in the trial, which confirmed that human oversight of vessels can be achieved using existing technologies from any location.

ABB Marine and Ports unit managing director Juha Koskela said: “Autonomous does not mean unmanned.

“As vessels become more electric, digital and connected than ever before, ABB is able to equip seafarers with existing solutions that augment their skillsets.

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“In this way, we are enhancing the overall safety of marine operations.”

For the latest trial, Suomenlinna II departed from Helsinki’s market square, Kauppatori was wirelessly operated by its captain Lasse Heinonen.

“ABB is able to equip seafarers with existing solutions that augment their skillsets.”

The captain used ABB Ability Marine Pilot Control to operate the vessel through a pre-defined area of Helsinki harbour.

The trial was conducted in the vessel’s off hours, with no passengers on-board and in an area that was not crowded with other vessels.

Though Suomenlinna II is equipped with ABB Ability Marine Pilot Control, it will continue to use the conventional on-board controls to operate.

The vessel will continue to undergo research and development for conducting the autonomous operation.

Built in 2004, Suomenlinna II is currently equipped with ABB’s icebreaking Azipod electric propulsion system. Last year, the ferry was retrofitted with ABB Ability Marine Pilot Vision situational awareness solution.