Unmanned systems can be used in a variety of applications in the maritime sector, contributing to safety and risk management. Namely, they are currently being used by class societies and marine surveyors to examine ships and cargo, while loss adjusters use drones to assess damage to vessels.

Damage assessment can now become easier and more effective, while drones can help mitigate losses, avoid loss of life and limit any potential environmental impact.

Volker Dierks, Head of Marine Hull Underwriting, AGCS Central & Eastern Europe stated:

If a captain has access to a drone on board it could help limit or prevent a loss – it could be used to assess possible buckling on a vessel that has sailed through heavy weather, for example.

But their application does not stop there. In its Safety and Shipping Review, Allianz reveals that operators are also using drones to assess the condition of assets, such as oil rigs, pipelines and offshore turbines, thus reducing the need for risky human inspections. In fact, in the North Sea, fishing vessels with drones are being used to carry out survey work and environmental monitoring.

More specifically, drones can conduct inspections of cargo tanks and holds, which is a risky task for crew. In addition, dangerous gases cause many fatalities at sea, as enclosed cargo holds may contain noxious gases. Drones can also carry out inspections at height, assess the structural integrity of a vessel or to monitor the loading of cargo.

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Drones will also be more important in spotting and avoiding hazards at sea. EU NAVFOR’s anti-piracy naval mission has actually deployed drones to monitor the coast of Somalia and monitor pirate activity. Except from piracy, drones can help improve navigational safety by spotting potential dangers in the sea that can damage a ship.

Mr. Dierks commented on this:

In the future we will see drones used to avoid hazards at sea. For example, they could be used by ships sailing in Arctic and Baltic waters to identify ice and show the route ahead.

What is most important however, is the fact that drones can help protect lives. This year, a drone rescued two swimmers in rough seas in Australia and more companies are developing drones for sea-based search and rescue operations, as well as drones that can identify and warn swimmers of sharks.