Greater ChinaOperationsTech

Autonomous shipping all the buzz at Marintec China

Whether spread across its vast exhibition halls or at myriad press events or industry conferences, the topic of autonomous shipping has been a central theme at this year’s Marintec China event in Shanghai.

ABS executive vice president for global marine Dr Kirsi Tikka chaired a panel session during the event on the marine industry’s journey to autonomy and the collective benefits realised along the way.

“With fast-paced advances in technology, we are on a journey to autonomous transportation at sea,” Tikka said. “For the shipping industry, at sea and ashore, it will be a gradual process of evolution.”

Tikka described the benefits that will come during interim phases of the marine industry’s voyage to autonomous shipping. “The transition to the next generation of shipping is fuelled by automation, data and connectivity. Ultimately, success will rely on an iterative process that requires designing, building and testing interim outcomes. The industry will increasingly apply a systems engineering-based approach to build in robustness and reliability into the design. This process can increase the reliability of navigation, propulsion, auxiliaries, and communication – all of which will contribute to improving safety and efficiency. If implemented correctly, evolutionary development will introduce significant benefits to shipping at each phase, before we reach autonomy on a larger scale.”

Tikka went on to discuss how a new talent profile with different skills will be necessary as the industry moves to autonomy. “While we transition to further autonomy, increased automation and connectivity will change how the crews interact with ship systems and shore-based support. Managing significant change, in an industry where changes are adopted slowly, requires innovative thinking and a diverse blend of education and experience.”

Marintec China, Asia’s largest shipping show, closes tomorrow.

Jason Jiang

Jason is one of the most prolific writers on the diverse China shipping & logistics industry and his access to the major maritime players with business in China has proved an invaluable source of exclusives. Having been working at Asia Shipping Media since inception, Jason is the chief correspondent of Splash and associate editor of Maritime CEO magazine. Previously he had written for a host of titles including Supply Chain Asia, Cargo Facts and Air Cargo Week.


  1. Yes and there’s also the case that management of change is invariably involved as an influencing factor in all major disasters: Look to the offshore and airline industries as well as historical ship accidents. Expect fewer but more severe casualties (asset or people) as autonomy becomes more prevalent in shipping.

  2. I beg to differ. I believe it is a myth that autonomous shipping will lead to fewer accidents. It is easy to presume that any ship can be programmed to function within well defined and “logical” set of circumstances. But there will be a very long period of transition when a handful of ships will be operating alongside conventional manned vessels. The computer driven robot ship, monitored by some inattentive individual sitting in a room half way around the world and likely less experienced (if he/she is even a mariner at all?) will have to interact with nearby ships that are thinking intuitively given the circumstances they see looking out the bridge window. Robot ships may be unaware of small wooden fishing vessels all around them and cannot therefore make the same assessment that a manned watchstander will make being on scene. This situation, robot ship making a logical maneuvering decision, instead of responding to what is happening in reality, are doomed to have far more accidents than manned ships.

    I’m certain many will disagree. So be it. Meanwhile, how many of these types of accidents will the industry, regulators, and insurance underwriters be willing to accept before they throw in the towel and say…”thats enough!” How many oils pills on beaches will be enough before we say, no more.

    Lets not forget the engine room. How many times will a ship have a mechanical induced breakdown, that a redundant onboard system cannot fix? Adrift in the middle of the Ocean and miles away from technical support and a big towing tug, cargo owners will quickly tire of late delivery by repeatedly having their cargo held up by robot ships that somehow miraculously at sea, can fix themselves, all the time, without doubt, 100% of the time under all weather and sea conditions. Yea, right.

    Building ships that are price competitive to operate and design/build compared to a manned ship, over the life of that robot ship, is a pipe dream, a myth. Not my opinion. But the belief of many owners who already can see this reality. They have said so. Leave it to the Chinese to take up the slack in this niche market. Their gov’t will foot the tab for those willing to take the risk.

    China is interested in the ‘honor’ of being first at anything. They care little of the consequences of the risk that comes with being the first to experiment. If they suffer through the learning curve and accept the problems that come with experimentation, good for them. Do it in their own waters on their own ships with their own cargo. Good luck with all that. But stay away from me.

  3. Hi,

    As a person who has been following this subject for quite some time now, i think autonomous shipping will be difficult in reality if one has to go by the various and complex challenges it posts. Not only that, there are few people in the industry who are just rookies and they claim to have achieved breakthrough in this section. what surprises me is that, after seeing giants like wartsila, rolls royce and google entering into the foray, and having observed the rookies (mentioned before) – it is not only surprising but also annoying how these rookies claim to have made a breakthrough without a proper infrastructure and just by having few people who claim to have enough knowledge.

Back to top button