With widespread use of autonomous ships unlikely to happen on the high seas anytime soon, early examples are likely to be limited to smaller vessels and coastal waters. Autonomous ships are predicted to reduce human error, a major driver of accidents, but crews are likely to have an important role on board vessels for the foreseeable future.
“Ferries may sound like a good place for automation, but I can’t think of a worse place. If you take the crew off a ferry you introduce risk,” says Captain Andrew Kinsey, Senior Marine Risk Consultant at AGCS. “I am all for automation to support the crew, but it would be foolhardy to remove crew from vessels with passengers. Innovations like autonomous vessels and ultra large container ships (ULCS) are driven by efficiency and do not automatically lead to improvements in the safety of shipping. For as long as it is driven by accounting, autonomous vessels will not lead to zero losses.
"There will be incidences where technology and automation can remove crew from hazard. But personally I feel we need to study autonomous technology longer and harder. If you look at the development of ULCS, they are more efficient, but we can’t put out fires. This is a wake-up call that technology is not a panacea and that the root cause of loss – often misdeclared cargo in the case of ULCS fires – still needs to be addressed,” Kinsey concludes.
 Ventureboat.com, Rolls Royce demonstrates fully autonomous passenger ferry in Finland, December 2018
 Hellenic Shipping News, Maritime autonomous surface ships on the horizon, February 2019
Banner photo: Photo: Rolls Royce, Ship Intelligence, flickr.com.