There has been a constant discussion about autonomous vehicles making the roads much safer by terminating any human error, which by far is the major cause of traffic accidents. Similarly, making ship transportation autonomous will make the seas safer as well according to the maritime industry. The industry has a vital role in 80% of the global economy, international volume trade to be specific, as this mode of transportation is more economical than shipping the goods through air or land.
In the world of the trading fleet, there are over 62,000 vessels and it is a complex undertaking to verify all those ships are reaching where they need to be at the right time. Weather conditions, directions and locations, port activity and other factors are needed to be taken into account while deciding the routes and speed. The repercussion of the disruption in this system was seen when Ever Given, a massive container ship was stuck in the Suez Canal in March 2021, for six months. Supply chain disruptions for months and an estimated cost of $10 million per day were faced by the maritime industry.
The maritime industry is now creating ships with higher-level autonomy for operation.
While major incidents like that are not ordinary, collisions between ships and other stationary objects like bridges or oil rigs are common. In cases like Ever Given, most of the accidents are blamed on human error, thus, the maritime industry is now creating ships with higher-level autonomy for operation. These ships are particularly known as ‘Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships’ (MASS), and the International Maritime Organisation approved the trials of MASS in June 2019, and the first MASS trial was conducted three months later by a Japanese shipping company NYK Line with all the guidelines, where an autonomous navigation system was given the control of a massive ship in a two-day route from China to Japan. Since then, various MASS trials have been conducted. The ship named The Prism Courage sailed through Panama Canal and arrived at a South Korean port in 33 days.
Autonomous navigation called HiNAS 2,0 was controlling the ship for half of its journey. The ability of HiNAS 2.0 to identify the other ships during the trip helped to avoid the collision. The level of autonomy of MASS was rated by the IMO from level 0 and ending with level 4 which was full autonomy. HiNAS 2.0 is a level 2 system, equal to an autonomous car that still requires a backup driver.
The maritime industry has a vital role in 80% of the global economy and international volume.
In case the maritime industry allows fully autonomous ships, the speed of these ships will depend on the regulators and how fast they can adapt to the technology. shipping being an international matter makes it a bit complicated. However, there are speculations about someone being on board, as that would help to get the approval while enabling the shippers to take advantage of the autonomous navigation technology.
The product manager for autonomy at the maritime tech firm, Wärtsilä Voyage has shared that the department might not remove the individual off the ship but will do so from the bridge and assign them to higher-value tasks, with the option of calling them in when they are required.