Landmark shipping automation study suggests seafarer numbers will double by 2040

For all the fear crew have about their jobs being lost to automation, a new 170-page report from the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and the World Maritime University (WMU) suggests that the global seafarer workforce will actually double in size by 2040.

The report entitled Transport 2040: Automation Technology Employment – the Future of Work investigates how the global transport industry will change as a result of automation and advanced technologies, forecasting and analysing trends and developments in the major transport sectors – seaborne, road, rail and aviation – to 2040 with an emphasis on the implications for jobs and employment for transport workers.

According to the report, world seaborne trade will reach 60,000 bn ton-miles by 2020, 74,000 bn ton-miles by 2030 and approximately 84,500 bn ton-miles by 2040.

While simulations carried in the report unsurprisingly show that the introduction of highly automated ships decreases the growth rate in the demand for seafarers, the increase in the volume of seaborne trade projected in the next 20 years means that the projected number of seafarers required by 2040 is expected to be significantly higher than its current level. In some scenarios carried in the report, the figure is almost double than the approximately 1.6m seafarers working today.

Unlike other modes of transport, the study suggests that in maritime, the adoption of novel technologies traditionally happens in incremental steps.

“The adoption of autonomous ships under human supervision is expected to reach 11 to 17 per cent by 2040, and the expectation is that these ships will be operating in national and regional jurisdictions and specialized trades,” the report predicts.

The report concludes that the introduction of automation in global transport will be “evolutionary, rather than revolutionary,” and that “despite high levels of automation, qualified human resources with the right skill sets will still be needed in the foreseeable future.”

IMO secretary-general, Kitack Lim, opened the launch event yesterday noting that integrating new and advancing technologies in the regulatory framework for the shipping industry is a key strategic direction for the UN body.

“Member states and the industry need to anticipate the impact these changes may have and how they will be addressed,” Lim stated.

To read the full 170-page report, click here.


Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.
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