An Essex-based British company is sending a remotely controlled unmanned surface vessel (USV) named MaxLimer to survey the Tonga underwater volcano that erupted in January 2022, according to the BBC.
The 12 metre long uncrewed vessel will gather data by spending several weeks above the submerged caldera to map its current shape, and will also use sensors to measure post-eruption environmental conditions, such as the oxygen content of the seawater.
MaxLimer will work with manned research vessel Tangaroa, operated by New Zealand's National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA). Funded by the Nippon Foundation of Japan and organised by NIWA, together with Seabed2030, the project represents an international effort to chart the ocean floor. But only MaxLimer will spend significant time directly over the volcano, vastly reducing the risk to human life posed by the unpredictable Hunga-Tonga Hunga-Ha'apai.
In fact, personnel from Sea-Kit International, the company that developed MaxLimer, shown below, will operate the vessel from 10,000 miles away, in the village of Tollesbury on the Essex coast. All communication, control and monitoring is carried out over satellite.
According to their website, Sea-Kit's remotely-controlled Uncrewed Surface Vessels (USVs) are designed with an adaptable payload area, making them flexible enough for multiple mission configurations. The vessels can work alone, or as part of a fleet, to complete a wide range of tasks faster, cheaper and with less risk to personnel and significantly reduced carbon emissions than traditional, crewed vessels.
Founded in 2017, Sea-Kit already has patents pending, including an application covering a kit comprising a modular vessel and a set of two or more distinct removable aft hull portions.
USVs like MaxLimer have a wide range of applications in marine inspection, ocean floor surveying, maritime logistics, environmental management and the security of offshore assets. Unmanned, remote-controlled vessels offer increased safety, as well as the potential to reduce costs and emissions, and so over time they are likely to become a familiar sight on our oceans.