Seafarers heard mixed messages on how they might be employed on the smart ships of the future, at a conference on automated ships attended by Nautilus in June 2017.
The Autonomous Ship Technology Symposium in Amsterdam, heard a range of debates on how much of a reality 'robo-ships' will be in the future, and topics covered included ship intelligence, legal issues, electronic futures, and the 'human element'.
Nautilus professional and technical officer, David Appleton, who attended on behalf of the Union, said while it was an exciting time to be involved in shipping – away from the 'eye-catching headlines', the conference heard mixed messages from expert speakers.
In his report in the September 2017 Telegraph Mr Appleton commented: 'There are still a number of significant hurdles that must be overcome before the technology is widely adopted. Technological issues still exist, including limitations in available bandwidth and the present capability of sensors. Perhaps the most difficult task to achieve will be convincing shipowners about the 'benefits' of autonomous shipping.
While we will undoubtedly see developments in specialist operations and even small coastal vessels, experts were unanimous in the belief that we are not likely to see the end of manned shipping operations in the near future
'Whilst talk of making owners strictly liable for all accidents involving autonomous vessels may well scare off many in what is still a very conservative industry, the most pressing issue of all is the business case. When questioned, Maersk Line's innovation strategy manager Michael Rodey informed the conference that crew costs make up just 1.5% of the total expense of running a large container vessel and that "on crew cost alone the business case is zero".
So, while we will undoubtedly see developments in specialist operations and even small coastal vessels, experts were unanimous in the belief that we are not likely to see the end of manned shipping operations in the near future.'
Vice-president of innovation at Rolls-Royce Oskar Levander, also told the conference that while manned vessels would be around for a 'long time', skilled seafarers should be 'saved for the real complex tasks'. He predicted ship operations will move away from individual ships being treated as individual ships and more towards ships managed as a total fleet.
'Rather than optimise the sea voyage, we need to optimise the logistics chain,' he stressed. He said there is a need to get away from bigger ships that are dedicated to one cargo owner in favour of smaller, more versatile, digitally integrated ships with lower emissions, leaner operations and reduced crew – or fully autonomous operation.