Although bringing up some important gains for shipping, the slow regulatory framework and the costs associated with the development of technology will not allow autonomous ships to mature and be integrated in maritime operations in the next 10 years, speakers agreed during the virtual 2022 SMART4SEA Forum in February.
echnology is available and has been available for a long time, so technically it is possible, and I think economically feasible as well…and I’m sure there are many people out there considering it. But the broader inhibition to its adoption I think is a societal one and a legal one. I’m not sure there is the will and the understanding and agreement to underpin a broad adoption of the autonomous shipping,” said Capt. John Dolan, Deputy Director, Loss Prevention, Standard Club.
Current challenges in e-Navigation
E-navigation is a milestone from a navigational perspective when it is used correctly, reducing the workload and increasing situational awareness, noted Capt. Pantelis Patsoulis, Vetting and Nautical Manager, Euronav. A great example of how e-Navigation helped enhance maritime safety is ECDIS that revolutionized operations by enabling continuous monitoring of the ship’s position, speakers pointed out. However, any negligent actions in the use of automated systems could pose the vessel and the ship owner in a position being liable and unseaworthy, Capt. Patsoulis added.
In addition, a main area of concern with respect to e-Navigation is the human element, considering that a generation more familiarized with technology now succeeds the older one, said Capt. Dimitrios Melas, Master, Angelicoussis Group.
The new generations are very familiar with electronic aids, and this causes brain laziness; they are becoming lethargic and over-rely,
“The harmonization is very important so the crew can use different systems, but one should be careful with standardization of User Interface (UI). That is what happened with the ECDIS system; it’s good with standardization because you can use any equipment from any provider, however the innovation, the adaption of human factor making it simpler, the kind of development will be slowed down, because it takes a long time to change your standardized solution,” added Bjørn Åge Hjøllo, Chief Sustainability Officer, NAVTOR.
Finally, the increasing vessel size is another area of concern for maritime safety, which makes e-Navigation particularly relevant for the near future, stressed Capt. Dolan.
“One of the more familiar and painful experiences that we have as marine insurers is witnessing the number of gantry cranes being knocked over by container vessels on a fairly regular basis. Of course, there are a number of issues at play there, but one surely is size. Just to see a momentum: Weather conditions, complexity, birth designs…all of these risk factors could and probably should lead to the use of more sensors onboard vessels and more smart technology to guide the mariners under bridge, he said.
The near future of autonomous shipping
When discussing of the future of e-Navigation, regulation was at the forefront of concerns across SMART4SEA panelists, with all agreeing that it could hinder the adoption of this technology for at least the coming decade.
“Pointing on regulation side, there will be no big scale autonomous vessels out there. The regulation will take many years, maybe a decade, and then you need to harmonize it all over the world. So maybe, technology wise, we can be there, but regulation-wise, we won’t be there. And my first question when we start is why should we go for the autonomous vessel, ”stressed Mr. Hjøllo.
In the near future, it is expected that there will be more integration between ship and shore in terms of optimization of voyages, argued Capt. Dolan, adding that this will be driven by both the technology available and also the decarbonization and digitalization debates that are going on right now in shipping and logistics industry.
I think that training will change more rapidly, as technology seems to be in advance of the competency trainings of the mariners onboard. I think there’s a gap there that needs to be bridged and crew to be ahead of that particular curve. Ship size, I think, will continue to grow in certain vessels and that will have an impact on what happens in those sectors,
On his turn, Mr. Hjøllo said it is sustainability that currently drives the world and shipping must follow up, so this is where the industry will see most efforts going, both on the technology side and in the shipping side.
“And even if you would like to build autonomous vessels, the yards are busy now and those who will be treated first and have first priority is vessels being more sustainable. So, to be honest, I don’t see our big demand for autonomous vessels. For short sea yes, but for the world fleet, I don’t believe in so much, but it the optimization will be very nice to have onboard vessel with crew,
Is autonomous shipping a threat for crews?
As shipping is slowly shifting towards automation, ship manning will be reconstructed, shifting crews to shore-based positions, but this will happen gradually, argued Capt. Melos. In this landscape, the big bet for the near future is training, speakers stressed.
Seafarers are moving actually to shore based positions and, in the same time, with automation, jobs are moving from ship to shore. But these people still need operator trainings, so…I believe there will always be a training need because of this rapidly changing technology
…said on this Mr. Marvin Bielek, Nautical Author, Mintra.
“All these things are operational needs, we cannot change them. Schedule changes happen, people might need to go to other ships etc., that’s an operational reality that we need to accept. But we need to work closer together to ensure that the training that is actually done is a valuable use of the time of seafarers,” concluded Mr. Bielek.
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