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Crewless ships could soon be sailing the seas

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Alumni in Logistics

Thematic news

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09.28.2017

The Yara Birkeland isn’t an ordinary cargo ship. If all goes well then the vessel, currently being built for a Norwegian agricultural fertiliser company, will become the world’s first fully autonomous cargo ship when it launches in 2020.

Current international shipping law states that ocean-going vessels must be properly crewed, so fully autonomous, unmanned ships aren’t allowed in international waters. As such, the Yara Birkeland will have to operate close to the Norweigan coast at all times, carrying out regular short journeys between three ports in the south of the country.

But change is afoot in the maritime sector, and earlier this year the UN’s International Maritime Organisation (IMO) began discussions that could allow unmanned ships to operate across oceans. This raises the prospect of crewless “ghost” ships crisscrossing the ocean, with the potential for cheaper shipping with fewer accidents.

Several Japanese shipping firms, for example, are reportedly investing hundreds of millions of dollars in the technology. And British firm Rolls-Royce demonstratedthe world’s first remote-controlled unmanned commercial ship earlier this year.

However, removing experienced crew from ships means that any accidents that do occur could be far more severe. On top of this, many practical, regulatory and technological barriers remain in turning the world’s cargo ships into a fully autonomous fleet, and that could mean it’s a long time before it’s actually profitable to invest in the technology.

The IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee sat for the 98th time in June 2017, starting discussions that may well lead to a change in the rules set by the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea. But indications are that it is likely to be a long and complex process. The issues relating to the safety and economics of unmanned ships have barely started to be considered. A lot of work will need to be done before solutions are found, or agreements are reached.

To read the entire article click here

Source: World Economic Forum 

Author: Christian Matthews, Head of Maritime Technology, Liverpool John Moores University

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