Rod Lingard (UK War Risks) discusses the Nautical Institute seminar he and (UK P&I Club) Loss Prevention Director Stuart Edmonston recently attended:
' Autonomous Ships- What does the future hold? Science Fiction or only a few years away? This was the topic of a recent Nautical Institute seminar co-sponsored by, amongst others, the UK P&I Club and Davies Johnson and Co. (recently acquired by TM Law). The seminar was held on 25 and 26 September 2015 in Bristol. An appropriate venue considering Brunel’s GREAT BRITAIN, docked about a mile away, was described as the greatest experiment since creation when she was launched in 1843. Will this Bristol seminar be regarded as the defining moment in the next great sea change in shipping? Is the dawn of the age of maritime autonomy upon us?
An Autonomous ship is a ship, with remote control assistance, which is able to make the whole or part of a voyage without people on-board. One of the main drivers for such ships will be reduced cost. Certainly there will be reduced crewing costs, but without crew on-board there will be no need for a superstructure and hotel services, reducing the ship’s light weight, increasing cargo carrying capacity, cutting wind resistance resulting in increased fuel economy and also cutting cost. Additional technology, equipment redundancy and improved systems reliability will be required but the relentless, ever faster, development of technology and computer power will make such ships feasible.
However, it is not just a matter of being cost effective. Matthew Williams, from the International Chamber of Shipping, made the point that in addition such ships need to be, safe, efficient and sustainable.
Our own UK P&I Club Loss Prevention Director, Stuart Edmonston, took the final slot, on insurance, on the first day. Will MAS be a better risk? Ultimately Stuart thought so.
The seminar finished off with a question and discussion session. Cyber security and the risk of hackers taking control of a MAS (Marine autonomous systems) was raised as one of the concerns but it is also an issue with manned ships.
I’m sure all the claims handlers out there have all had cases where it would have been better if there had been no crew on-board but on the other hand many voyages end safely, with the intervention of the crew on-board, despite the best efforts of equipment!
We’ll see, smarter, greener, manned ships first but for sure MAS will follow.'