For Germany as an export nation, efficient handling processes in its seaports are essential. The German North Sea ports in particular compete with major European seaports such as Rotterdam or Antwerp.  At the same time, the maritime industry as a whole faces the challenge of reducing emissions and thus contributing to the German government's climate targets and the EU's Green Deal.

Efficient and safe traffic management within the ports is the fundamental requirement for ships to safely arrive at their berths on time. It is essential to ensure a minimum depth, for which port infrastructure operators are responsible.

The guarantee of minimum depths is achieved by dredging all port locations on a regular basis. The tide-affected ports in northern Germany in particular are affected by a high sand and silt input, making regular dredging especially important. The previously performed stockpile dredging has long since ceased to comply with ecological principles and is therefore no longer a focus of attention. Especially for the port of Emden, which is characterized by a high organic silt content, the so-called recirculation method has proven itself in practice. In contrast to the conventional removal method, in which the sediment has to be removed and dumped at another location, the recirculation method uses the microbiological composition of the sediment. Fluid mud (suspended silt layer) is formed from suspended sediment formations that have a low specific gravity when they begin to sediment due to their high organic content. The space between the individual particles is filled with microbial slimes that stabilize the suspension. The microbial slimes are produced by bacteria under aerobic conditions. The fluid mud picked up by a hold vacuum dredger in the area of greatest density is therefore exposed to atmospheric oxygen in the thinnest possible layers in the bulk before it is released again. In order not to break up the structure, certain requirements are imposed on the pump technology used. The bacterial slime not only improves buoyancy, but also reduces friction between the particles and thus also promotes the navigability of the fluid mud body.

A special dredging technique is required for the recirculation process, which is resource-saving and must be carried out continuously due to local conditions related to sedimentation. The special dredging technology and maintenance volume requires continuous use of a vessel at the site. There are very few suppliers on the market offering dredging services, resulting in an oligopoly. In addition, due to changes in the labor market, there is a growing shortage of appropriately qualified personnel to manage vessels in 24/7 operations. The high contract costs reflect this situation and are a high cost factor for port infrastructure operators. In the future, there will be an increase in costs because more water area will have to be maintained in the future.


The primary goal of this project is to strengthen the sustainable cost-effectiveness of port maintenance by automating the cost-intensive maintenance dredging to a large extent. The core idea of the project is to design, verify, validate and test a dredger vessel for the recirculation process that is automated in three automation levels in order to assess the automation and service risks of operating such a vessel in the port.

In AMISIA, the automation levels defined by IMO are Level 1 "Ship with automated processes and decision support", Level 2 "Remotely controlled ship with seafarers on board" and Level 3 "Remotely controlled ship without seafarers on board". In level 1, the ship is controlled and monitored by means of assistance systems (e.g. autopilot). In level 2 ships, the ship is steered from shore, but there are still navigators on board. In addition to remote control, this level also includes other automation functions, such as recognizing, evaluating and reacting to potentially dangerous ship encounters. In stage 2, for example, docking and casting off maneuvers are still manual tasks and must be performed by humans. Stage 3 includes highly automated ships that operate autonomously but must be monitored by humans at all times.

The technological automation concept for the three automation levels will be a composition of existing automation technologies. In parallel, the shipbuilding design and the design of the automated recirculation process will take place. In close coordination with this, a V&V concept for the three automation levels will be developed. A risk assessment of the concepts with regard to the different automation levels will be performed at the same time. In the context of the development of an operational and business concept, questions concerning the planning of operations and missions as well as the resulting economic efficiency for each of the three automation levels will be addressed.

An essential part of the project is the continuous testing of the automation concepts in the field. For this purpose, a research boat from eMIR will be equipped with the necessary automation technologies. This will make it possible to identify relevant vulnerabilities already during the project and to deal with them adequately, which will result in a concept adaptation. At the same time, operating concepts can be tested. The goal is to have tested each of the three automation levels in the field and to prove the safe functioning with the designed V&V methods.

AMISA was funded by the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI)

Project Duration: 01.10.2021 - 03.09.2024


Niedersachsen Ports


DLR e.V.

Bundesministerium für Digitales und Verkehr

Innovative Hafentechnologien