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How would autonomous shipping cope with a situation like the Hoegh Osaka?

Being smart about shipping

The trend towards digitalisation is inexorable but what this entails is as diverse as the number of its proponents.

The position of the class societies and equipment manufacturers is pretty clear, with all parties eager to put out notations for autonomous vessels as well as provide the hardware to experiment with its possibility. Among the first to put out a specific notation for autonomous vessels is Lloyd's Register, along with others such China Classification Society, which has published so-called "Rules for Intelligent Ships".

Meanwhile others, especially equipment manufacturers and other service providers, are keen to push a variety of digital, or what has often come to be synonymous with "smart", solutions. These include condition-based monitoring or CBM systems and various others to remotely track the condition and performance of a vessel through sensors, analyse the results remotely and then make use of big data to provide solutions.

However, in the rush to increase the use of technology, the value of the human element is often being forgotten. For example, Lloyd's Register HK and Taiwan area manager James Forsdyke cited the case of the Hoegh Osaka which was deliberately grounded on the Bramble Bank in the Solent just over two years ago to save the vessel when it suddenly developed a serious list.

"How can we make sure that that capacity and capability is built into the functionality of the ship?" he asked.

"We have to be prepared for when the industry takes that step towards autonomous ships because it's absolutely coming, it's just a question of when," Forsdyke reiterated.

Little known maritime maintenance start-up Relmar has been working on the idea of reliability-centred maintenance (RCM) for the maritime industry for the past three years.

Explaining the logic behind RCM, co-founder Jason Falken said the heart of it lies in a strategic change in thinking about reliability and availability management onboard marine assets. The problem is that many maintenance regimes are currently based on the concept of time decay of components. This has rapidly become outdated with the increasing use of highly complex digital components where start-up failure is just as likely.

"The future of marine asset performance will no longer be driven by arbitrary maintenance practices based on isolated failure modelling, but on continuous, experiential improvement of Failure Mode Models driven by on-site sensor feedback and machine/human learning," he said.

Speaking to Seatrade Maritime News, Falken said: "The solution clearly is for a third party service provider to facilitate that because you need all these different stakeholders to be interfaced through a common structure that is geared towards the best interests of the ship owners." For this to happen the class societies need to support the methodology, the equipment manufacturers need to be included as well because they are major suppliers.

"The immediate benefit of RCM is a reduction of your operating cost," said Falken. Relmar claims it can reduce spares and maintenance costs by 30% to 70%, staff costs by 5% to 10% and cut downtime by 40%.

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