Norfolk designer behind first unmanned cargo mission
PUBLISHED: 10:50 14 May 2019 | UPDATED: 14:10 14 May 2019
A remote controlled ship designed by a Stalham man has become the first cargo vessel in the world to cross the seas without a crew.
Designer Ben Simpson, who was born and bred at the family boatyard, Simpsons, was one of two remote pilots working from a control centre in Essex, who completed the ship's 22-hour trip from Mersea Island to Ostend in Belgium.
They used a system known as Global Situation Awareness, which obtains location data from on-board GPS and radar and is fed back to the control room.
The ship carried 11 lbs (5kg) of Mersea Island molluscs to Belgium, and then made a return journey with Belgian beer on board.
The 40ft (12m) long Sea-Kit vessel USV Maxlimer is operated by Sea-Kit International Ltd, and is designed and developed by Mr Simpson's firm, Hushcraft Ltd, based in Tollesbury, Essex.
It arrived, without a human being on board, at Ostend at 9am on Tuesday, May 7, where it was welcomed by Belgian customs officers.
Mr Simpson said: "This voyage has been months in the making and to see it all come together is amazing.
"The potential lies in its ability to be adapted to a range of tasks, whether it be transit hydrographic surveys, environmental missions, or marine safety and security.
"We're tremendously excited to push the technology to its limits and see what we can achieve."
He added: "I grew up at the family boatyard in Stalham, now called Simpsons boatyard, and learned my trade there.
"I went to university in Southampton and then spent 10 years in the super yachts industry. I sailed around the world before starting this business in Essex, where I'm now based."
Sea-Kit is capable of speeds of up to four knots (4.6mph), has a capacity of up to 2.5 tonnes and is powered by a hybrid electric-diesel engine.
It is equipped with cameras, radar, microphones, thermal imaging and a back-up autonomous system to keep it and other sea-goers safe.
The mission was supported by the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency, the Department for Transport, the Foreign Office, officials in Belgium and the European Space Agency.