Zulu Associates, a Belgian maritime design firm, has introduced its 200-TEU autonomous short sea container vessel, the Zulu Mass, featuring an auxiliary wind assistance system.

Zulu Associates CEO Antoon Van Coillie said the new Zulu Mass design is from Dutch ship naval architects Conoship International. It is being developed with Zulu’s subsidiary the Anglo Belgian Shipping Co. and will operate across the English Channel.

“We’re delighted to be working with Conoship International who share our passion for innovation,” Van Coillie said. “Working with Conoship we are challenging ourselves to build the most advanced and innovative vessel we can. As a result, apart of being fully electric and autonomous, we’re adding wind blades and examining wave foil propulsion. This is an exciting time for short sea shipbuilding. Traditional concepts are being challenged to drive change and enable new zero emission shipping possibilities.”

Van Coillie confirmed the designers are developing modular energy containers for the Zulu Mass using batteries and/or hydrogen-based power systems to provide the prime energy source. He said discussions with energy providers are ongoing in parallel with the design.

“Autonomy is still in its infancy but we want to show what is possible and support the process of regulation keeping pace with innovation,” he said. “As a result, the Zulu Mass is designed to be unmanned as a part of a maritime autonomy system, which will allow it to compete with fossil fueled or hybrid vessels.”

Van Coillie said Zulu Associates is fully supporting the Belgian government’s desire to drive clean maritime innovation.

“Belgium is at the forefront of marine innovation and has had a legal framework for pilot projects featuring unmanned vessels in the North Sea since July 2021,” he said. “That has given us the confidence to embrace and invest in the Zulu Mass. Now, Belgium, the UK, Denmark and the Netherlands have signed a memorandum of understanding aiming to harmonize the procedures to obtain certification for an unmanned ship to sail between the four countries. This should result in a single request replacing the need of having to apply for two or more permits. We are seizing the initiative of this opportunity and are planning to launch the Zulu Mass as a world first and industry trailblazer in 2025.”

The Zulu Mass is a larger seagoing version of the inland waterways 90-TEU X-Barge, currently under final construction design for Zulu Associates.