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Unmanned ghost ships cruising the high seas are the stuff of nautical legend, but don’t be surprised if someday soon that cargo vessel off the starboard bow is operating without a single soul aboard.

The driverless transportation revolution is about to hit the shipping lanes. According to Bloomberg News, the shipping company Yara International ASA, based in Oslo, Norway, aims to deliver cargo by sea on unmanned vessels beginning in 2020.

The fully electric, zero-emissions YARA Birkeland, being built by Kongsberg Gruppen ASA, is expected to set sail next year in Europe. By 2019, it will be able to work by remote control, and at the start of the next decade, it will be able to deliver on a fully automated basis, according to the shipping company.

A breakthrough by Yara could have far-reaching implications for the maritime industry, although automation at sea must overcome such challenges as strong ocean currents, bad weather and — in some places — piracy.

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