London: Shipping is years behind its automotive and airline cousins in harnessing information technology and urgent investment is required, especially as the pool of well qualified seafarers gets ever tighter, according to one of the industry’s most famous analysts.
Dr Martin Stopford, president of Clarkson Research Services, warns the shipping industry today: “We are so old fashioned we don’t even realise just how far behind we are with the latest technology.”
He calls for far greater spending on research and development on automating ship operations and navigation.
The lack of qualified crew is one of the most pressing issues facing the industry, he notes.
“You’ve got 58,000 deepsea ships, that’s 58,000 qualified chief engineers, it’s tough to get them today and there’s a feeling that in ten years time you are on a real loser there,” he tells Maritime CEO.
What he proposes is to look at how owners can deskill the onboard jobs.
“If you can lay your hands on some expertise it is much better to have it in the office and be doing the difficult, technical stuff from the office, not on the ship,” he says, noting that this is exactly what the car industry has done.
“Take your BMW into the garage,” he says, “and they don’t get out a spanner, they plug it into the computer, download all the information and the computer tells them what circuit board to plug in.”
Stopford hits out at owners for failing to invest properly in technical expertise.
“I think there is a lot to be done on the technical side in rebuilding the expertise which in 50 years of cutting costs most companies have taken out,” he says, pointing out just how few shipping firms have technical directors these days.
As far as the navigation of the ship goes, Stopford says shipping should look at the advent of the Google Car, which has only had two accidents and they were both when people were driving them. The 64 lasers on top of the car don’t make mistakes, he stresses.
In a rallying call to owners, Stopford urges: “It’s time for a reappraisal about what our strategy is in shipping and time to think whether that $180bn of investments last year in new ships needs to be matched by perhaps a much smaller but significant investment in increasing the industry’s technical capability to use this great new revolution we have, information technology.”
Stopford’s comments on ship automation form the plank of the Executive Debate in the soon-to-publish next issue of Maritime CEO magazine. [04/12/14]