Debating the question were two teams of leading industry figures, one led by Precious Shipping md Khalid Hashim and the other by René Kofod-Olsen, ceo of Topaz Energy and Marine.
Hashim argued that the industry was not ready because necessary regulations governing the use of new technologies such as autonomous ships, AI and the cyber-risks involved all remained some way off. In addition, a recent reader survey by Seatrade Maritime News confirmed that less than 10% of shipping companies are currently making any significant use of big data, he added
Supporting him was Ali Shehab Ahmad, deputy ceo of Kuwait Oil Tanker Company (KOTC), who suggested that unlimited broadband at sea was still too “costly”, and that service providers should “do more” by way of incentives for ship operators to install new technology.
And Capt. David Stockley, coo at Oman Ship Management Company, lamented that many newbuildings already come with overly complex technology that is unreliable and entails expensive service contracts.
Leading the other team, Kofod-Olsen countered by saying that shipping’s use of big data and analytics was already bringing multiple benefits such as route and fuel optimisation, predictive maintenance, more efficient fleet management, and improved crew welfare. Smart shipping as defined as digitalisation of the industry ‘is already here, and expected by everyone in the office and onboard ship,” he declared.
Oskar Levander, senior vice president for Concepts & innovation at Rolls-Royce Marine, described smart shipping as a “very wide toolbox with something in it for everyone.” One highly advanced application is the remotely controlled, autonomous vessel, the first demonstration of which may be imminent, he hinted.
And Drew Brandy, senior vice-president of Market Strategy at Inmarsat Maritime, drew the parallel with smart phones, stating simply “connectivity is the reality of the modern shipping industry”.
After interventions from the floor a vote among the audience was taken. The result proved incredibly close, with Kofod-Olsen’s team arguing that the industry was ready to embrace smart shipping coming out winner… by a single vote.
“We are split,” concluded debate moderator Jasamin Fichte of law firm Fichte & Co. The debate had underlined that smart shipping represents “a good way forward”, she said, and while doubts remain over whether the industry is ready, “I think we’re on the right way.”