According to Allianz's study, there are many potential benefits to be gained from autonomous shipping.

  • As 75-96 percent of marine accidents can be attributed to human error, it is assumed unmanned vessels could be safer. AGCS analysis of almost 15,000 marine liability insurance claims shows that human error is behind 75 percent of the value of all claims analyzed, equivalent to $1.6 billion.
  • At the same time, the risks inherent in having a crew, such as injury or loss of life, will be significantly reduced or even eliminated.
  • Then there is the potential to improve both efficiencies and productivity by saving on crew and fuel costs. Crew costs can vary from around 10-30 percent of ship-owners operating expenditure (OPEX), depending on the type of vessel. An unmanned ship could free up more space for cargo in place of accommodation and crew support systems.
  • The introduction of designated automated shipping lanes could make logistics easier, increasing the reliability of cargo transport. It has even been suggested that automation could result in a decline in piracy incidents, as there is no crew to be used as leverage for ransom. 

“Autonomous technology has the potential to revolutionize the movement of cargo on a scale not seen since containerization was introduced some 50 years ago,” says Captain Andrew Kinsey, Senior Marine Risk Consultant at AGCS.

Challenges and risks

  • Regulatory framework could prove more challenging than developing the technology
  • Significant international cooperation needed
  • Safety considerations – potential issues around collisions between manned and unmanned vessels
  • Human intervention also averts incidents.
  • Emergencies and environmental issues could pose threats
  • Cargo management and safety challenges without crew support
  • Fire management without crew support
  • Cyber risk to increase

“Fully automated shipping may be possible from a technical perspective, but on a global scale it may not happen given the navigational challenges of entering ports and congested routes, as well as the challenges of operating in storm conditions. It is hard to see how vessels can operate without crews to deal with emergency situations,” says Chris Turberville, Head of Marine Hull & Liabilities, UK, AGCS.

The whole study may be viewed here.

Credit: Allianz