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Unmanned Cargo Ship Development Under Way

by Ulrika Lomas,, Brussels

26 February 2014

Rolls Royce is undertaking pioneering research to develop unmanned cargo ships. These vessels would operate in the same fashion as drones in the aviation field, but proposals for commercial shipping envisage uptake on a substantially larger scale.

Bloomberg reports that Rolls Royce believes that its drone ships would be safer, cheaper and less polluting for the USD375bn shipping industry. Unmanned cargo ships might be first be deployed in regions such as the Baltic Sea within a decade, while regulatory hurdles and industry and union scepticism about cost and safety will slow global adoption, Oskar Levander, the company's vice president of innovation in marine engineering and technology, told Bloomberg.

"The technology is at the level where we can make this happen, and society is moving in this direction. If we want marine to do this, now is the time to move," he said.

Removing personnel from vessels would raise some security concerns in terms of the safety of cargo, but would prevent hostage situations that have become prevalent in piracy-prone regions.

The European Commission is separately investing in its own research through the Maritime Unmanned Navigation project. According to literature released by this project's researchers: "Partly or fully unmanned ships will offer many possible benefits, but one of the main driving forces for the project has been the problem of recruiting [enough] qualified crew members. This is already a significant problem in Europe," which the researchers believe will increase as "slow steaming" becomes more widespread. "Lower speeds and longer voyage durations will increase the overall demand for crew while reducing the attractiveness of the job," they say.

"Reduced operating costs are obviously also an important factor: crewing costs are increasing, and under slow steaming, additional crew time onboard cancels out much of the fuel savings. Having fewer or even no crew onboard is certainly attractive from this perspective."

TAGS: marine

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