One of the world’s leading insurance and asset management companies reported in 2018 a significant improvement in shipping losses over a 10 year period of around 17%. This might seem small when you consider there are 50,000 merchant ships trading internationally but the bottom line is that over this past decade the total losses have declined by more than a third. This can be directly attributed in part to advances in technology, improved ship design and developments in risk management and safety. When it comes to real people we should even more demanding when it comes to safety at sea.
The environmental lobbies will be pleased to read such news, particularly as it might give some of them more time to concentrate on their favourite safety issues such as beach scrapping. For the majority of the shipping world there is always a need for vigilance and attention to detail. Let us not forget that the majority of maritime accidents are attributed to human interactions or errors as some simply call them. This is not a blame game culture: the interaction of technology and real people is still in a transitional period and coming to terms with full autonomous operations in the maritime world remains a bone of contention.
Autonomous transport has been around for years and we come across it in airports and on some cities in the form of public transport. Often there is a real person around to help and that is a reassurance. The maritime ports sector has been embracing certain aspects of this technology with robotic gantry cranes and container loading the most obvious examples. The experts tell us that this is not how the maritime world will likely operate when it comes to autonomous shipping. That may be true in 20 years but until then we still see a human element as part of this new future, even if they will be on-board to just ‘keep an eye’ out or carryout maintenance or emergency repairs. Regardless of the mixture between real people and technology, the topic of safety remains high on the agenda. When the safety statistics and reviews are detailed, it is not a machine that will be pleased by the standards but real people. When there is damage to a machine or piece of equipment, it can be an expensive and time-costly business but in the main, machinery can be repaired or replaced.
The maritime world is not complacent in such matters and there are various ‘Codes of Safe Working Practices for Merchant Seafarers’ outlining how to keep them safe in their duties while at sea. In the rush to remove some seafarers from operational duties and reduce crew numbers, it is vital not to simply see them moved to other duties without reviewing the safety angles. Safety is always a priority and we should all be grateful that we have others looking over our shoulders and deciding whether we are safe or not.