UK-based seafaring union Nautilus International conducted a survey among almost 1,000 respondents made up of maritime professionals worldwide about their perception of autonomous shipping. Published on their website on February 28, 2018, the survey finds a prevalent doubt among 85% of the respondents towards autonomous shipping, with special concern towards the safety of such technology.
The survey details that job security and safety were the major concerns by the respondents, stating that automation is a threat to their jobs. With that being said, not all of the respondents were apprehensive of the technology. The respondents said that these new innovations could be used as a way to improve seafarers’ lives and conditions by reducing or even eliminating routine duties. This in turn can ensure that maritime jobs are safer, more skilled, and more satisfying.
Part of the concern was the belief that a human crew is necessary when dealing with various safety concerns such as daily equipment failures, handling low quality fuels, and generally preventing disastrous situations from occurring. 85% of the respondents saw unmanned, remote-controlled vessels as a threat to safety, while only 18% saw the removal of a human crew as a positive.
International shipping lawyer Torgeir Willumsen states that while 80% of marine casualties are caused by human error, it is also a human crew that can help ensure smooth operation and mitigate any issues in order to prevent machine breakdown.
Another viewpoint shared by respondents is that equipment manufacturers are only interested in creating a market for their services while masquerading this as concern for safety.
When asked where in their opinion autonomous ships would pose the greatest threat to safety, 19% answered offshore services, 12% answered international waters, 38% answered coastal waters, and 39% answered harbours and pilotage areas. Out of the respondents, 59% believed that remote-controlled ships would be a threat anywhere in the sea.
With autonomous shipping seen as a negative to safety despite being presented as an improvement by eliminating the human factor, it is clear that this innovation is still too radical of a change. As such, maritime training, including maritime training in the Philippines, should still be improved as it will be a long time before autonomous ships become prevalent in the industry. In the meantime, perhaps maritime training courses can be updated to include maintenance of new innovations should autonomous shipping take flight alongside keeping the human element onboard.