The maritime industry is set to turn to automation and sophisticated technology to solve a global skills shortage.
A perfect storm of retiring baby-boomers and the ongoing global economic downturn, are causing the number of skilled seafarers in the global industry to shrink dramatically, but attendees at Seatrade Offshore Marine & Workboats Middle East (SOMWME) will hear from an expert panel of speakers how automation and advances in connectivity could solve the looming skills crisis.
The issue will be addressed on day one of the biannual Seatrade Offshore Marine and Workboats Middle East (SOMWME) 2017 exhibition and conference, at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC) from 25 – 27 September 2017, where speakers at the ‘Manning Update’ will assess the role of automation in tackling the ongoing challenge.
“The number of skilled personnel across multiple functions has been in decline for a number of years. In 2010, The Manpower Report by BIMCO/ISF calculated the global supply of officers stood at 624,000, compared to a demand for 637,000, concluding the figures were ‘near-ideal’.
“However, by 2016, the shortfall stood at 16,500 officers and is predicted to rise to 147,000 worldwide by 2025. In the United States, figures published in 2016 by the U.S. Maritime Administration placed the country’s shortfall at 70,000 mariners by 2022,” said Emma Howell, Group Marketing Manager, Seatrade portfolio, UBM EMEA.
Moderated by Captain Michael P. Elwert, Group Chief Executive Officer, Elektrans Group, the panel will feature William Tobin, Underwriting Syndicate Manager — Offshore, The Shipowners Club and Captain John Lloyd, Chief Executive Officer, The Nautical Institute, as well as Revd Dr Paul Burt, Regional Director, Gulf & South Asia, Mission to Seafarers.
Captain Lloyd commented: “The increasing sophistication of technology is opening the door to serious discussions about the remote control of ships, perhaps one day leading to completely autonomous vessels. While moving in this direction gives wonderful opportunities to improve reliability, one of the key challenges will be to balance the cost of reliability against performance and financial viability through savings. That is really a matter for the technologists and the economists to address.”
Automation in shipping is not a new concept; many responsibilities, checks and safety functions are now carried out autonomously. But in the age of driverless vehicles and remote controlled drones, the first unmanned, autonomous ship, could be on the horizon.
It would not be the first time, complicated skill sets are delegated to artificial intelligence — aviation has undergone a similar transformation, with the role of the pilot evolving with each new generation of aircraft. However, innovations in shipping can be leveraged to address a gap, rather than requiring existing specialists to up-skill.
Lloyd continued: “On the operational side it is important we create a regulatory framework which gives an opportunity for these vessels to be developed and then to identify the skills required to operate them safely and efficiently.
“It is likely these skills will draw heavily on maritime knowledge and experience if we are to develop effective solutions. As the professional body for those in control of ships, The Nautical Institute is already actively engaged in these discussions and looks forward to the next generation of ships and operations supported by world-leading technology and innovation.”
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