According a study conducted by Allianz, 75 to 96% of marine casualties happened due to human error. Another study, “Annual Overview of Marine Casualties and Incidents 2019” published by the European Maritime Safety Agency found that human actions were responsible for 65.8% of accidents at sea. 90% of global trade happens through sea and hence it is believed that a lot of accidents can be avoided if the vessels become autonomous and we remove the human intervention. Also, countries like Japan are facing a huge manpower crunch. A Japanese study of 2015 revealed that 56% of the Japanese seafarers were above the age of 50. Hence, Japan has another incentive for going autonomous.

In 2018, taking into consideration the developments happening is autonomous ships, the International Maritime Organisation has defined The Maritime Autonomous Surface Ship (MASS) – “as a ship which, to a varying degree, can operate independently of human interaction, and broadly laid out levels of autonomy”. IMO has defined four levels of automation/ autonomy: –

  • Ship with Automated Processes and Decision Support: Majority shipboard systems are operated and controlled by seafarers; however, some operations may be automated.

  • Remotely Controlled Ship with Seafarers on Board: Seafarers are onboard although the ship is controlled and operated from another location.

  • Remotely Controlled Ship Without Seafarers on Board: The ship is controlled and operated from another location with no seafarers on board.

  • Fully Autonomous Ship: The operating system of the ship is able to make decisions and determine actions by itself.

Konsgberg and Rolls Royce are the main innovators as far as autonomous ships in Europe are concerned. Rolls Royce has entered into agreement with Intel to develop state of the art Artificial Intelligence systems for autonomous ships. They have also entered into collaboration with Finnferries of Finland to develop autonomous ships. The first autonomous ferry was demonstrated in archipelago south of the city of Turku in Finland in 2018.

Finnferries Autonomous Ferry

Konsgberg has thereafter acquired the Commercial Marine division of Rolls Royce in 2019. Kongsberg, along with Basto Fosen and Norwegian Maritime Authority conducted trials with the first adaptive ferry which conducted trials with passengers and vehicles onboard. The press release from Kongsberg read – “The vessel demonstrated fully automatic control from dock to dock and is a key step forward in the integration of autonomous technology into everyday shipping operations.”

On the remote control front, SK Telecom and Samsung Heavy Industries of South Korea has demonstrated the use of first 5G-based autonomous and remote-control navigation test platform. They also built a Remote Control Center in December 2019. These tests are an important first step towards the commercialization of 5G-based autonomous and remote-control navigation technologies. SK Telecom and Samsung Heavy Industries are also leveraging 5G, IoT and AI technologies in shipbuilding to improve safety and productivity. This would be done by detecting and controlling all equipment and facilities in a shipyard in real time.

SK Telecom Remote Ship Control

Kongsberg has gone ahead and collaborated with Yara Birkeland to build the world’s first autonomous zero-emission container vessel which is expected to be launched this year. The ship is expected to gradually move from manual to complete autonomous operations in two years time.

This article is based on inputs from