We’ve talked before about the advent of autonomous ships and while a number of countries are investing time and money into investigating the feasibility of smart shipping, how do actual shipowners feel about it?

While companies such as Uber and Waymo (formerly known as the Google Self Driving Car Project) and, over at Tesla, Elon Musk, are all excited about self-driving vehicles, it doesn’t necessarily translate into something the general population are rushing to embrace. Can the same be said of shipowners and smart self-driving ships?

Are shipowners resisting self-driving ships?

At the moment, it appears that on the whole shipowners and ship managers are still somewhat reluctant to hand over the control of their vessels. The bottom line is they would rather place their trust in their captains and crews rather than in technology. This stands to reason: a captain has a wealth of experience in navigation at sea and in manning a ship and his crew will also have been trained and understand the role they have to play on board. Technology, meanwhile, is an unknown quantity.

It’s true that the maritime industry has been accused of being slow to adopt new technologies - and for good reason in some quarters. But can shipping companies really be expected to put all their faith in a faceless automaton? And on a human level, are shipowners ready to implement autonomous technology that could, in theory, replace their crews?

How safe are autonomous ships?

Those who champion the rise of the autonomous ship point to the statistics; 3,000 marine collisions occur every year and, shockingly, more than 75% of them are down to errors in human judgement. Those same advocates will also tell you that because navigational tools rely heavily on that same judgement, a more fail-safe solution is needed. Could that solution be vessels running on collision avoidance technology and with systems that can make independent operational decisions without the need for a human controller?

On the other hand, there is nothing to say that replacing seafarers with technology and transferring some of them to land-based jobs will be foolproof either. An individual who caused an accident through lack of judgement, training or sleep could just as easily do the same from the shore. And while it may be possible to tally up how many accidents have occurred at sea, the same can’t be said of knowing how many have been avoided due to quick thinking or action by crew members.

Is smart shipping the future?

Regardless of how willing, or unwilling, some ship owners or shipping companies may be to adopt the concept of autonomous shipping, many will find it hard to disagree that it can make sound financial sense. For example, as consumers we are shopping online more than ever before and our expectations with regards to shipping times are becoming ever more demanding. This means that, despite their reluctance to adopt emerging technologies that could disrupt established logistic processes, shipowners might just find that they can no longer ignore the call of technology if they are to meet their clients’ demands.

This is the digital age, after all, and like it or not, the maritime industry needs to start taking advantage of all the benefits that new technologies have to offer.

Are you a shipowner or manager who is ready to take on the future? Talk to Martide today and let us help you become a willing adopter of new technology!