Monday, February 18, 2019
Sea Breezes Editor, Hamish Ross

Autonomous shipping: The future?

One of the biggest challenges facing our shipping industry over the next few years is how to deal with the introduction and impact of the drive towards autonomous shipping.

Readers of Sea Breezes will be aware that I am a regular reader of Nautilus International’s highly regarded monthly Telegraph. Nautilus has already organised, held and printed a survey into its member’s views on ‘autonomous shipping’ entitled “Future Proofed – what maritime professionals think about autonomous shipping”. I would commend this as essential reading for anyone interested in how our industry will deal with these transformational changes.

I am aware that seafarers often carry the reputation of being conservative and resistant to change, but when I look back to my own time deep-sea in the 1960s and how life at sea is now, the rate of change has, in reality, been relatively swift and considerable.

As we move towards autonomous shipping, it is the rate of change which must be controlled. The rich potential of substantial cost savings for ship-owners /operators and pressure from technology suppliers should not be allowed to turn this drive to autonomous vessels into a stampede. The transition should be orderly, thoroughly professional and tested and proved at every stage; always bearing in mind that ‘safety at sea‘ is still, and must remain, paramount.

In May 2018, the International Maritime Organisation’s maritime safety committee began discussions on a two year review of the regulatory framework governing the operation of autonomous ships. This is vital work. I have been impressed by Nautilus International’s work on this challenging and important subject and would end with a quote from a recent Nautilus Press Release by Mark Dickinson, General Secretary: “It is absolutely vital that people are not forgotten in the scramble to bring smart ships onto the seas. The debate, so far, has concentrated too much on technological and economic factors. Properly introduced, automation and digital technologies could transform shipping in a positive way – making it safer and more efficient, but managed poorly, they could undermine safety and erode the essential base of maritime skills, knowledge and expertise”.

On a separate note, due to a spell of ill-health, our regular ferry correspondent, Robert Straughton, was unable to supply his regular columns this issue. Justin Merrigan has kindly stood-in and written this month’s Ferry World. In the meantime, I’m sure readers will join me in wishing Robert a speedy recovery.

HAMISH ROSS, EDITOR

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