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Capt. Michael P Elwert

Training not keeping pace with technological advances

A new generation of seafarers is being held back by an industry which is “extremely conservative” when it comes to embracing technology and adapting its training methods even when it does.

That was one of the key takeaways from the UAE Maritime Leaders’ Summit on the opening day of Dubai Maritime Week Sunday which explored the definition, challenges and opportunities of smart shipping.

Asked from the floor if commercial shipping was doing enough to train tech savvy newcomers to make the most of new technologies, Capt. Michael P Elwert, the session moderator, admitted the industry was letting itself down.

“A pure, pure answer to your question is no, we are not doing it well…I think it is something we [the industry] have to recognise we don’t do very well,” said Elwert, group ceo of Elektrans Group.

“Yes, there are some front runners in the industry who do this extremely well but in general it’s not the case. We are utterly reactive and we are not proactive on the training of our crew.

“When you visit a lot of the maritime training organisations worldwide and you see what they are training in and how they train, you’ll be surprised that it is actually, predominantly old ship technology. It’s the old history. We should embrace technology more.

“We definitely have a challenge there, of making sure as we continue putting new technology aboard the ships we have and to understand we need to invest in the people side so they actually know how to use it to its full potential.”

Dr Volker Bertram, senior project manager for DNV GL Maritime Advisory, said the outdated training curriculum could be quickly adapted.

“As one colleague of mine said, they don’t need to be computer whiz kids. Is learning to drive an automatic car more difficult to learn to drive than a stick shift? I think not,” Bertram said.

“So in some sense all we will probably evolve to is to having almost a level with a stronger understanding of cyber systems, basic understanding of that and a wider spread of systems that they have to handle. On the other hand, the systems themselves help them handle it.”

While some forms of shipping lent themselves to unmanned vessels – containerships for example – others like oil tankers, LNG carriers and cruise ships would need human intervention for the foreseeable future, Oskar Levander, vp innovation for Rolls Royce, admitted.

Digital technologies, no matter how disruptive, would never replace humans in shipping completely, he said. However, just as training methods had to change, so will traditional seafaring roles be performed in “more exciting and safe and comfortable work environments” thanks to new ship to shore connectivity.  

“Imagine today a captain, how much time does he really spend manoeuvring a ship?” Levander asked.

“He has been trained to manoeuvre a ship in difficult situations with all his extensive training and experience but how much does he actually use it to move ships [in port] and how much of his time is used on administration and bureaucracy and paperwork, forms he has to fill out?

“He probably spends less than 5% manoeuvring ships and is that an efficient use of talent? Why not have that captain sit in a much more comfortable operations centre on land and let him operate one ship into port and then he takes the next one…and the next one.

“He’d also have another office to take care of that bureaucracy…and hopefully that is taken care of by ship intelligence and automation too.”

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