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The only time autonomous ships are not a right fit

It is when our hybrid seafarers are not ready

The idea of autonomous ships has not fully assured conventional maritime players that it would be the new seafaring way. Nevertheless, veterans still subscribe to the human touch.

A case of misplaced doubts?

Mads Friis Sørensen from M/S MARTA asked out loud if autonomous ships will eventually be a right fit. In a piece on LinkedIn, he observed many authorities and bodies failed to address the what-ifs. What if technology fails? Is there something to fall back on? He is certainly not a convert (yet), though he welcomes the idea of such being the next seafaring era. Sørensen remains loyal to the idea of human touch onboard remote-controlled vessels. Despite embracing the advantages of autonomous ships, he remains concerned about safety.

“When we succeed, we can harvest the benefits of less operational costs and increased safety based on the assumption that eliminating the human factor increases safety. However, by eliminating the human factor, we also eliminate the human intervention. Putting a remote operator in the place of the onboard crew may not provide the same human backup,” he remarked.

Taking a step further, one might question his doubts; the efficacy of autonomous vessels or human operation? Artificial intelligence is only a component within smart vessels, and it would still require some human touch to maximise the benefits. Sørensen stressed, “Adding machine learning and AI to the technology, we may be able to create new ship types with a new way of operation, which can provide more cost-efficient operation and improved safety. This is because we still have someone on the wheel if something goes wrong.” He however did assert intelligent virtual ship is not a competitor to the autonomous ship, but a step towards it.

So back to the question of whether autonomous ships are the right fit for the future. It will be when the breed of hybrid seafarers is ready. This group has fused knowledge of both conventional and technology-based navigation. Again, the human touch is addressed if one reads deeper.

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