Japanese shipbuilders are about to take a major step toward launching the world's first vessel powered by superconducting magnets, a spokesman for the project said Wednesday.

The 100-foot-long hull of the Yamato I will be moved next week from the western Japanese Port of Shimonoseki to Kobe, near Osaka where engineers will attach the magnetic propulsion system now under construction, the spokesman for the Japan Foundation for Shipbuilding Advancement said."Our goal is to test the propulsion system on the high seas next year," he said. If remaining problems can be solved, the new drive system could become commonplace in shipping.

The Yamato I will be propelled by superconducting magnets that conduct electricity with nearly no resistance when cooled to extremely low temperatures.

The magnets will create a powerful magnetic force that counteracts with an induced electric current in sea water, driving a propulsive jet of water toward the stern.

The system has many potential advantages over propellers, including high speed, maneuverability, and lower noise and running costs.

The foundation, which includes major Japanese shipbuilders Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Hitachi Zosen and Mitsui Engineering and Shipbuilding, has invested about $31 million on research and development of the system since 1987.