Maersk Tender, Maersk Trader and The Ocean Cleanup team return from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – with a fully functioning plastic harvesting system in tow.

After another six-week test campaign in the Pacific Ocean, the Maersk Supply Service crew and The Ocean Cleanup team have returned to a triumphant celebration in Victoria, Canada, having successfully trialled The Ocean Cleanup’s plastic harvesting technology.

This is the second charter on which Maersk Tender and Maersk Trader have towed The Ocean Cleanup’s System 002, known as “Jenny”, the first taking place earlier this year in July when the crew facilitated the initial test run. That initial campaign was to verify Jenny’s basic plastic-harvesting functionality, where this most recent trial was to assess her harvesting capacity. And when over 9 tonnes of plastic hit the deck after a single haul, the crew understood that they could confidently head back to shore in the knowledge that they had proof of technology. System 002 can safely, efficiently, and reliably clean the oceans of plastic, and is now ready for the next mission phase: scaling up the operation.

Key figures

  • 28,659 tonnes of plastic collected during the two charters
  • 9 tonnes of plastic were collected in a single haul
  • 3 tonnes of plastic collected in 48 hours, equating to 60kg p/h

Success for System 002, “Jenny”

With this pioneering trial, System 002 has hit the nail on the head, collecting 28,659 tonnes of floating plastic over the course of the 12 weeks. The campaign successfully demonstrated that the technology can be operated in accordance with offshore standards, with all mitigations for interactions with marine life showing promising results – an important part of The Ocean Cleanup’s objective for a net positive impact on the ocean’s ecosystem.

The systems at a glance

  • System 001 (”Wilson”) was a passive plastic-collecting system, tested in 2018
  • System 002 (“Jenny) is an active plastic-harvesting system, towed by two vessels
  • System 002 moves at a slow pace, 1.5 knots, to avoid endangering wildlife
  • System 002 is 800m long
  • System 003 is expected to be 2.5km long!

All hands on deck: enlisting the help of the MSS crew

Towing operations are firmly rooted in Maersk Supply Service’s DNA, so the towing element of the operation represented familiar waters for the crew. What made this project unusual for Maersk Supply Service was that it was itself an experiment, the technology untested. It is in the nature of a project like this to learn, fix, and improve on the hoof, and the Maersk Supply Service crew could provide an operating framework  that enabled them to mitigate risk, apply the proper procedures and offer critical feedback, all of which ultimately maximise the longer term chances of success in clearing the ocean of plastic.

Maersk has supported The Ocean Cleanup with maritime services since the start of our offshore operations. The partnership has grown to include project management and more extensive onshore and offshore support, with Maersk team members now also embedded within our organization. Our operations benefit greatly from the quality and safety focus of Maersk, where their operational excellence and flexible mindset complement the innovative nature of our project. We look forward to expanding our partnership further in the road towards the scale-up of our operations.”- Henk van Dalen, Director Ocean, The Ocean Cleanup


Crews sort the plastic haul from System 002

The Maersk Supply Service crew ensured the operation was carried out smoothly and safely – but more than that, they were keen to lend their support with wider aspects of the campaign, using their skills and competencies to optimise the system itself and make it a success.

In one particular case, a Ships Assistant aboard Maersk Tender, Johnny Fahlatrøm, had the idea to build a roll cage to protect System 002’s camera skiff. This was a buoy with an antenna and several cameras attached, designed to monitor the retention zone, allowing mitigation of  any by-catch if necessary. The crew quickly discovered that the extraction process of hauling the retention zone aboard the ship was precarious for the camera skiff, and on one occasion the antenna was caught by a taught cable and snapped off.

Maersk Trader’s Chief Officer Michał Janus aboard and A/B Robert Piszczyński stepped up with a swift prototype, using Maersk Trader’s workshop to build the roll-cage to protect the antennae. Despite being a rapidly assembled construction, it proved very sturdy, protecting the camera skiff and antenna during subsequent extractions, despite the skiff capsizing on one occasion and having to be pulled in over the stern roller onto the back deck of the ship.

Shared values

The collaboration between The Ocean Cleanup and Maersk Supply Service dates back to 2018, when Maersk Supply Service entered into a three-year partnership to provide marine support and resources to The Ocean Cleanup and their mission to develop and scale technologies to rid the world’s oceans of plastic. In addition to the marine support of the towing, installation and monitoring, Maersk provides transportation and logistics for both the ocean and river systems and, in January 2021, Maersk extended its partnership with The Ocean Cleanup for another three years.

The companies form a good match for two reasons. Firstly, ocean health sits at the heart of Maersk Supply Service’s core values and strategy. As a leading provider of integrated solutions and marine services to the energy sector worldwide, we are proactively using our capabilities to unlock the ocean’s potential in achieving sustainable ocean economies.

Secondly, the solution to the problem of floating ocean plastic requires two sets of capabilities: The Ocean Cleanup’s detailed knowledge of the problem, their plastic-harvesting technology, and ability to channel waste gathered into a circular economy that turns it into reusable materials. On the other hand, Maersk Supply Service has the marine capabilities to execute the offshore work safely and efficiently, providing specialist expertise to implement both the test systems and the subsequent scale-ups in such a remote location.

Ultimately, the shared mission, vision and set of values has instilled a genuine passion in every crew member onboard.

Next steps

Maersk Supply Service will support two more offshore campaigns for System 002. In tandem with these operations, The Ocean Cleanup will begin developing System 003, an improved and larger version of the system that will serve as the blueprint for the cleanup fleet. The team estimate that a fleet of ten up-scaled cleanup systems will be sufficient to clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Maersk Tender and Maersk Trader's next campaigns with System 003

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