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Nippon Yusen to test vessel remotely in quest for robot ships

[TOKYO] Japan's largest container line plans to test a remote-controlled vessel across the Pacific Ocean in 2019 as it pursues fully autonomous technology that could disrupt the global shipping industry.

Nippon Yusen KK is considering using a large container ship for the test from Japan to North America and a crew will be on standby for safe operations, Hideyuki Ando, a senior general manager at Monohakobi Technology Institute, said in an interview Wednesday. The institute, a unit of Nippon Yusen, conducts research and development in areas such as safe vessel operation, energy saving, and logistics.

The Tokyo-based cargo carrier is joining a list of companies worldwide working to develop vessels without sailors that may help the US$334 billion global shipping industry cut costs and boost safety. The technology may help eliminate human errors that are responsible for a vast majority of all marine casualties.

The US Navy's warships were involved in four serious incidents in the western Pacific this year, resulting in loss of lives and damage to defense hardware. In the latest accident this week, 10 American sailors were reported missing and five injured after an oil tanker rammed into the USS John S. McCain, a guided missile destroyer, off the Malacca Strait - home to one of the world's busiest shipping lanes.

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Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc, BHP Billiton Ltd., the world's biggest mining company, and fertilizer producer Yara International ASA are all studying the introduction of autonomous ships. Yara is aiming to test remote operation in coastal waters in 2019, it said in May.

Nippon Yusen said last year that it tied up with radar manufacturer Furuno Electric Co and communication equipment-makers Japan Radio Co and Tokyo Keiki Inc. to study crash avoidance techniques using autonomous ships.

Mitsui OSK Lines Ltd and Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha Ltd, Japan's second- and third-largest shipping lines, are also working on autonomous ship technology but declined to say when they would sail a test ship.

Japan's government is backing research into data transmission and setting domestic and international standards for automated ships. Its goal is to have the cutting-edge transmission technology included on 250 ships built domestically by 2025, it said in a white paper in June.

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