Marsh: Autonomous shipping could reshape the industry

The increased use of autonomy in shipping comes with potential risks as well as great potential gains, says Marsh in the Disruptive Technology section of its report “The Changing Tide Of Risk”. Marsh noted that crewless, fully autonomous ships, were yet to navigate global waters, but that rising transport volumes, growing environmental concerns, and a shortage of experienced and qualified seafarers had driven up interest in the area, and that autonomous ships could on the seas by 2020. Marcus Baker, chairman of Marsh’s global marine practice, said that the introduction would probably be incremental, beginning with local internal operations such as ferries, moving onto domestic coastal operations, inter-country coastal operations, and finally the high seas.

Marsh observed that technology can already be used in the marine industry to remotely monitor conditions of cargo on board, thus possibly reducing the likelihood of litigation with cargo owners if cargo arrived damaged or ruined.

A fully autonomous vessel would have no need for crew facilities, leading to more space for cargo carriage. “Without navigation and engineering personnel on board, these ships might also achieve the benefit of increased human safety, as the ship would be largely, if not entirely, controlled from a remote location. In addition, the

possibility for human error, which is widely thought to be a contributing factor in more than 70% of all accidents at sea, has the potential to be reduced if systems are more automated” wrote Marsh.

However, the broker noted that, until the new technology has been tested, the risks cannot be comprehensively identified. Regulatory difficulties and insurers’ attitudes also remained uncertain, noted Marsh

“Worryingly, technology already in use is racing ahead and expanding in its vision and capabilities before regulating bodies can catch up”, said Marsh.

The broker also noted that cyber-pirates could also use drones to check on which (manned) vessels were using strong defensive measures, which had aware crews, and which did not.