Paul Fanning attends Europort and hears a sobering assessment of the future place of humans in an increasingly automated shipping industry
The opening ceremony of Europort in Rotterdam held mixed news for those in the maritime industry on the subject of autonomous vessels and the future of the human being in shipping.
Speaking as part of a panel of ‘captains of industry’, DNV GL executive vice president Albrecht Grell said “Humans are still key to shipping. I can’t see autonomous shipping making sense in the next two to three decades. His fellow panel member, co-chair of the Royal Dutch Shipowners Association (KVNR) Karin Orsel concurred, saying “I agree. [Shipping] is never going to be without humans.”
None of this was to suggest, however, that shipping is not changing direction as a consequence of technological advances. All the panel members agreed that it was, with SEA Europe vice chairman Kees Jan Mes saying “Jobs are going to change. In future, the majority of those involved in shipping will need to have a good understanding of IT issues, while there is increasingly going to have to be a permanent minority of experts in this field.”
Ms Orsel agreed, saying “New jobs – different jobs – will be created… what will change is that we will need a different type of engineer in the future.”
It was acknowledged that acceptance of the new technologies will have to improve and Mr Mes gave an idea of how this will happen, saying “The tipping point will be when everyone is comfortable with having the technology supporting their decision.”
So, while we may take heart from the consensus that autonomous shipping is still a long way away, the message from this session was clear: shipping is changing fast and the people within it will have to adapt just as fast if they aren’t to be left behind.