Automation Could Put Ships in Danger
The digital revolution in shipping is expected to create great opportunities that will bring more efficiency and profitability to the industry. However, diving headfirst into automation and building autonomous ships might not necessarily be a good thing as there might be additional dangers lurking in digitalisation and not all of them are related to the technology itself.
According to UK Government’s Marine Accident Investigation Branch chief inspector Andrew Moll, if seafarers will be appointed system monitors of semi-autonomous vessels, it could increase the risk of maritime accidents. Among the reasons for heightened danger are mental fatigue on long voyages, inability to concentrate, overreliance on technology and eye fatigue from staring at the screens.
Autonomous ships could be the answer to avoid human error that, based on Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty analysis, is responsible for 75% to 96% of all marine accidents and has cost $1.6bn in losses in five years. However, some ship safety areas are still unclear when it comes to crewless vessels.
Most importantly, the risk of cyber crimes grows as autonomous vessels require broad interconnectivity of ship systems. This opens up multiple points for hackers to attack, creating risks of collision or hijacking.
Emergency situation handling is also in question. In the event of a fire onboard or environmental disaster, will autonomous ships be able to readjust, deal with the problem and navigate harsh weather conditions? Considering navigation, with no crew to handle entering ports and congested routes additional risks for collisions and damage could arise.
While autonomous ships can promise higher efficiency and cost savings, shipowners are reluctant to invest as there is no regulatory regime in place for international journeys. This means that ship routes would be limited, covering only coastal waters.
Right now, autonomous vessels have not breached commercial service yet, but development has started. Most notably, Rolls-Royce has been actively working on this task. A remote-controlled tug has already been tested in June 2017, and an autonomous shipping fleet is expected to come on stream by 2030. The question remains whether this will only be a showpiece that is technically viable, but not used commercially. If the International Maritime Organisation prepares a regulatory framework for such ships and insurance companies can change their policies to include “masterless” vessels, maybe autonomous ships could enter international waters.
What can be done to ensure safe travels of autonomous ships and avoid human error? Find out the answer to these and many other questions about the shipping industry during the 4th International Green & Smart Shipping Summit in Rotterdam on 8-9 October. Leaders from major shipping companies, including shipowners, shipbuilders, maritime associations and government representatives will gather to discuss green shipping, alternative fuels and more. Register to join!