What has been done 

The International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) Kitack Lim was among the first that highlighted the importance of technology, which will enable the sector to recover the pandemic.

Arguably, technology has created a positive vibe for the industry throughout the pandemic and the restrictions that followed, as it ensured that operations could be conducted normally, as much as possible.

So far, we have seen a number of major shipping stakeholders mobilizing their operations towards a smarter environment, with an increase in remote surveys, use of drones and the issuance of digital certificates, in efforts to keep up with the rest of the world and the developments.

As showed below, some of the maritime players adapting to the new reality have been:

  • DNV GL and Bureau Veritas thought out of the box and opted for remote technology in respect of the health and safety of their employees. What they did, was that they deployed remote inspection, remote supervision and augmented inspection services in multiple use cases and business units around the world.
  • Following the example above, Lloyd's Register conducted a six-day, three-person audit for a marine and offshore company through remote technology, and the Liberian Registry announced implementation of the first ever remote Annual Safety Inspection (ASI) aboard their ships, in a bid to adjust to the COVID-19 disruptions, using remote inspections as a direct response to the major restrictions.
  • ABS launched, in an industry first, ten remote survey options, with an overall of 28 surveys and audits able to be conducted remotely, to assist the industry in this challenging environment.
  • Liberian International Ship & Corporate Registry (LISCR) used RINA’s remote technology for inspections of Liberian flagged vessels, while Shipowner d’Amico used this technology in a pilot case on their fleet.

  • Abu Dhabi Maritime Academy got delivered Wartsila’s Cloud simulation technology, moving towards e-training methods, due to the ongoing social distancing and travel restrictions.
Did you know?

In light of the pandemic, shipping major associations and port communities launched a new initiative called "Accelerating Digitalization of Maritime Trade and Logistics," including nine goals that will help the sector deal with the challenges arising in the smart sector. 

What is yet to come

The way the industry followed the new reality seems very promising, while experts from the maritime field support that technology will play a crucial part in helping the shipping industry find its way out of COVID-19. However, the overall future remains unknown.

In a recent webinar, ABB Marine and Ports explained the path to fully autonomous vessels, highlighting the challenges and the difficulties. Specifically, to reach the full autonomy state, the first steps to be taken are setting the regulation and legislation needed, so that the industry knows where to go and then see what the business model is. This means, understanding the customer value, the revenue, the cost, as well as the risk and liability. Furthermore, the last step is setting the technology.

Furthermore, Kevin Daffey IMarEST President notes that the technology will increase the shipping roles onshore, which can help us navigate access challenges due to quarantine and travel restrictions. This may lead to an improved autonomous shipping, and the use of new to the industry technological tools, such as virtual reality (VR) which for instance can be used to look at a ship’s machinery; with augmentation via equipment manuals and measured data, information is available instantly to help diagnose problems by the crew, or to send images back and forth between the ship and shore for more expert and in‑depth diagnosis.

Referring to the fruitful relation between humans and technology, James Forsdyke, LR’s Head of Product Management comments that "interaction between hardware, software and human experts, wherever they may be in the world, offers a really exciting combination that complements and enhances the traditional offering based on physical attendance only.” 

Although the question about what the future holds remains with now specific answer, it is supported that the industry has now the chance to move forward and adapt to the new environment that calls for smarter and more autonomous solutions.

It is now time that the industry advances Automation, AI and Autonomy, whilst reducing emissions to meet the stringent new target figures. As James Fanshawe CBE MNI, Chairman of UK’s Maritime Autonomous Systems Regulatory Working Group argues, the new reality will affect all ships, and Uncrewed Ships will be a part of this process.

He argues that “It would be a good outcome for COVID‑19 to have acted as a catalyst for people to review their thoughts and return to work with renewed enthusiasm to make life at sea safer and to let technology enhance the capabilities for all those connected with life at sea.”