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Autonomous shipping does not mean unmanned

Kongsberg, the Norwegian company leading the world in autonomous shipping, has sought to allay fears that technological advancements will lead to widespread job losses in the industry.

“Sailors fear for their jobs when they hear about what we are doing, but autonomous does not mean unmanned,” said Peter Due, director autonomy, global sales and marketing at Kongsberg Maritime, addressing a seminar on the Ocean Space, organised by the Norwegian Embassy in Dubai this week.

Kongsberg is developing the world’s first electric, fully autonomous containership, named the Yara Birkeland. Due to be delivered in early 2020, the zero-emission vessel has been hailed a game changer for the maritime industry as it prepares to meet stringent environmental targets.

Due said only a small percentage of future ships will be unmanned and the remainder will be fully or partly manned. On the high seas, autonomous vessels would maybe require fewer crew, but there would still be the need for maintenance teams onboard.

Read more: A commercial reality check for autonomous shipping in 2018

For the short sea shipping market, Due said autonomous containerships will enable shippers to win back cargo lost to the trucking industry because of the cost savings, emissions reductions and safety benefits they will bring. Although these ships will be unmanned, they will still be monitored by sailors working in onshore control centres. As an added benefit, Due pointed out that these sailors will enjoy a much-improved work-life balance from being based on land.

Read more: Are the maritime industries ready to embrace Smart Shipping? - You decide

Rather than job losses, Due said the shipping industry actually faces a shortage of 147,000 officers worldwide by 2025 according to the 2015 Manpower Report by Bimco and the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), as rising global trade and improved competitiveness will create more jobs in the ocean space.

In August, Norwegian shipbuilder Vard was awarded a $30m contract to build the 120-teu Yara Birkeland. Kongsberg is developing the vessel in partnership with Norwegian chemical company Yara, which currently uses 40,000 diesel truck journeys each year to transport its fertiliser products to export terminals.

The global shipping industry is looking to at least halve its carbon emissions by 2050.

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