In general, autonomous vessels will further reduce the existence of human errors and decrease any incidents that may be caused by seafarers. Human error accidents are common nowadays, and are also costly. For instance, the Ulysse ferry collided with the container ship 'CSL Virginia' on October 7, 2018. According to Furness, the ferry’s captain stepped away from the station to take a phone call just before dawn. The Ulysse rammed into the side of the CSL Virginia container ship.
Recently, Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty reported that human error accounts for between 75% and 96% of all shipping accidents.
In light of a fast developing shipping industry, Rolls Royce was among the first shipping companies that presented autonomous vessels; In 2018, Rolls Royce and Finferries presented the world's first fully remote and autonomous ferry. In the meantime, the collaboration between Rolls Royce and Nippon Yusen in autonomous ships may lead to a crewless vessel by 2020.
In addition, automation in the shipping industry will bring many benefits, including economic ones. Given that research and development costs will be considerable, operational costs are projected to shrink for autonomous ship operators, who won’t have to pay people to be on board. Furness suggests that crewless vessels will be redesigned to be more efficient, where as functions as heating and cooking will be mitigated because of less crew onboard.
Concerning Rolls Royce, Mr Esa Jokioinen, Vice President, Sales & Marketing, Ship Intelligence, Rolls-Royce, in an interview with SAFETY4SEA presented their Intelligent Awareness system, which includes advanced LIDAR radar, and radar to identify and avoid a stationary obstacle in the water. The system is also designed to assist in docking.
Despite driverless ships effectively removing human error, they won’t bring the risk to zero.
However, despite the industry's urge to achieve automation, the transition will not be seamless, given that regulation for automation seems to follow technology and not be in line with it.
As Rolls Royce stated, autonomous ships 'have the potential to reduce human-based errors, but at the same time new types of risk will arise and will need to be addressed'.