Who is in charge?

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A recent article by a respected company offering intelligent navigation systems highlighted the elephant in the shipping world’s latest room: the seeming reluctance of some ship owners to fully embrace new technology. In a point well made, it was suggested that these ship owners placed more trust in their captains and the crews on vessels than they would in technology, no matter how smart it is supposed to be.

This is the same problem those in the automobile industry have been facing for the past decade: it is just not totally acceptable to most people to sit there and let a machine or software assumes control of their mode of transportation. Yet it happens all the time in major cities with London’sDockland’s light railway and German suspension railways operating without a driver. The big question is safety and how humans react to resolve critical issues, which is why we are probably still not ready for pilotless planes!

In most ways the concerns of ship owners are understandable as they have investments in their ships and the people working for them. But there is also the need for the maritime world to keep taking small steps towards embracing smart shipping, smart technologies and smarter ways of working. There are people in the shipping world that understand there is a fine and acceptable balance between technology and the human element. When it comes to safety at sea there is still the view that seafarers are needed, despite the fact that autonomous operations, navigational systems and interconnected networks are commonplace.

New technology is ushering in the smart operations being asked for by those in the industry but ship owners will bear the costs and the fallout when things go wrong, so it is understandable that they still need convincing. There has to be a place in the shipping world for real people even when autonomous ships sail into view: the age of self-repairing vessels and 100% accurate autonomous navigation are not here yet.