Antwerpse start-up laat binnenschepen varen zonder of met gereduceerde bemanning

Antwerp start-up allows barges to sail with or without crew

Seafar-founder Louis-Robert Cool

The war for talent also affects inland shipping. Shipping companies hardly find captains for their barges. The Antwerp start-up Seafar makes these rare profiles twice as productive by moving the captains from their boat to a control center on shore. Good for the economy, good for the planet.

  • How? Louis-Robert Cool
  • Since? 2018
  • Employees? 35
  • Revenue? Not known
  • Funding? Not known

Inland shipping is facing a huge shortage of personnel, says Seafar founder Louis-Robert Cool. “As a result, shipping companies cannot use their barges nearly as efficiently as they would like. In order to sail around the clock, there must be two captains on board. But of course those two captains are not sailing all the time. An inland vessel is ashore about half the time to load and unload. At those moments, those two captains, who are incredibly hard to find, cannot do anything.”

“That situation limits the entire industry. That is why we started developing semi-autonomous vessels for inland shipping with Seafar. We move the captain from the barge to a control center on shore. In this way we make those rare captain profiles 50 percent more productive. If one ship is ashore to load or unload, that captain can take charge of another ship from the control center. In this way we can sail more inland vessels, without the need for extra personnel.”

30 ships

Currently 15 ships are equipped with Seafar’s technology. There should be 30 by the end of 2023. “The sailing process is still very controlled,” explains Cool. “Our technology is already quite advanced. It is mainly the regulations in the Netherlands and Germany that still prevent us from going much further. Inland shipping is strictly regulated. That makes sense, of course you don’t want to take any risks with safety. There’s no point in stressing over this slow process. We work together with the government. The more we learn from this experimental phase and the pilot projects that are underway, the faster we can force breakthroughs.”

This is not only important for economic reasons, the sustainability aspect also plays a major role. “To achieve the European ambitions of the Green Deal in the field of waterborne transport, we need more shipping capacity. But these objectives contrast with the shrinking workforce in the sector, and that is where our technology can offer a solution.”

From inland shipping to coastal shipping?

Today the focus is on inland shipping, in the future Seafar will also look at coastal shipping. “People sometimes ask us whether we also want to allow large container ships to sail autonomously. But that’s a totally different business case. The crew of those container ships is much more international, the major shipping companies recruit their captains all over the world. The shortage of personnel that inland shipping encounters is therefore much less of an issue there. The regulation is again completely different. We have our hands more than full for the time being with semi-autonomous coastal and inland vessels.”

Every week we present – in random order – a company from the list of 30 most innovative tech start-ups and scale-ups that Omar Mohout put together especially for Bloovi and that we Flanders Tech 30 baptized. These companies have already been discussed:

  1. D-CRBN
  2. Foodpairing
  3. SoundTalks
  4. Goodless
  5. Swimtraxx / Capetech
  6. Solergy
  7. IVEX
  8. IPEE
  10. Slimbox
  11. QelviQ
  12. CoMoveIT
  13. Moonbird
  14. Arani
  15. CADSkills
  16. Alberts
  17. Westray
  18. Urban Crop Solutions
  19. Tractonomy
  20. Bloomlife
  21. On-Hertz
  22. Magics Technologies
  23. dotOcean
  24. Morrow
  25. Seafar

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