MOU signed between MCA and University of Southampton

Container ship
The MOU with MCA will focus on developing autonomous ships and emissions reduction in shipping.

A partnership joining maritime expertise with top level research programmes will continue the drive to put the UK at the forefront of technology on maritime autonomy and emissions reduction.

A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) has been signed by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and the University of Southampton which will link research projects to top level work with design, manufacturer and operation of autonomous ships and emissions reduction.

Students from the University will be able to benefit from training, internships and PhD placements at the MCA, and staff from the MCA will be guest speakers at the University on courses related to marine design and engineering.

The Chief Executive of the MCA, Brian Johnson, and President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Southampton, Professor Mark E Smith, were unable to meet in person to sign the MoU due to current Covid-19 restrictions but have each signed the document separately to formalise the partnership.

Brian Johnson said: “The MCA are delighted to partner even more closely with the University of Southampton. The University is a leader in the academic world on maritime issues and we are thrilled to be creating a new stronger connection.”

Professor Mark E Smith said: “We are delighted to step up the relationship between the University of Southampton and the Marine and Coastguard Agency. Our two organisations are firmly committed to understanding and resolving many global issues related to the safety and environmental impact of global shipping and our continued, combined research efforts will play a major role in supporting the sustainability of that industry which is vital to so many people around the world.”

Professor Damon Teagle, Director of the Southampton Marine and Maritime Institute (SMMI) added: “This exciting initiative is a concrete example of the University of Southampton working closely together with our city neighbours, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. There are major research challenges for the maritime industries for which there presently are no easy answers. There are opportunities for the UK to lead the vanguard of global maritime in tackling issues such as climate change, decarbonisation, maritime pollution of air and waters, and the welfare of seafarers. We need to safely embrace and develop enabling regulations for nascent technologies such as truly zero-carbon future fuels, and high levels of automation that will improve the efficiency and reduce the environmental impacts of the globally roaming ships that carry 90% of world trade. It is important that Government organisations have prompt access to the best research and visions.”

The Public Policy Southampton team has been instrumental in facilitating knowledge exchange activities between the MCA and the SMMI. This includes placements for postdoctoral researchers within Engineering and Physical Sciences, Dr Lina Maria Zapata and Leverhulme Trust “Understanding Maritime Futures” doctoral scholar within SMMI, Natasha Easton who have conducted a literature review for the MCA on emission reduction technologies applicable to the maritime industry. A further placement made it possible for Benjamin Craig, PhD researcher in energy storage and applications within Engineering to be seconded to the MCA to respond to evidence needs relating to the use of high-density batteries and hybrid drive systems in the maritime sector.

“As a Biologist, working the MCA gave me the opportunity to learn about the strategies and technologies used in the shipping industry in order to improve the emission reductions,” said Lina. “In my current position as a postdoctoral researcher involved in studies related to the impacts of environmental pollution and ecotoxicological effects caused by several pollutants, this placement was a great experience because I have increased my knowledge about additional environmental impacts and effects on the marine environment that need to be considered in future studies.”

Natasha added: “As the focus of my PhD is on the chemistry of particulate emissions from port sources, this work has enabled me to explore this field in a far greater depth than would be possible within the scope of my doctorate. I have learnt a lot from this experience, which I am sure will benefit my future research and look forward to seeing the increased collaboration between the University of Southampton and the MCA.”

In addition, Southampton academics Dr Richard Wills and Professor Andrew Cruden from the Energy Technology Research Group have worked closely with the MCA to support the reviewing and updating of existing codes and regulations taking account of the safety risks attached to the potential use of Lithium Ion battery technology in the shipping industry.

Dr Wills explained: “The incorporation of battery power on workboats has several challenges, which will be addressed by the updated code. Applying expertise in energy storage and its integration into the maritime environment with the MCA is an exciting opportunity to demonstrate the growing impact such technologies are having in replacing conventional internal combustion engines.”

These and other activities are made possible through support from the UKRI Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and Shell Shipping and Maritime, and are aligned with the aims of the MCA’s own Maritime Future Technologies team as well as the Southampton’s own Centre for Maritime Futures. The Centre is at the heart of a major collaboration between Shell, the SMMI and industry partners who come together on projects aimed at improving the efficiency of current and future ship designs to make the decarbonisation of large, ocean-going ships a realistic prospect in a shorter timescale.

The MCA’s Maritime Future Technologies team is a key driver in helping the UK to meet its commitments on emissions reduction in shipping which ties in well with the ambition of the SMMI for the University of Southampton to play an active role in developing and implementing policies for a green shipping industry through academic input to support various stakeholders.

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