Autonomous Vessels

Earlier this month, the El Faro cargo ship went missing around the Bahamas. Approaching the Bahamas, El Faro came in contact with 125-mph winds and 50-foot seas of Hurricane Joaquin. The US Coast guard predicts the ship sank after taking on water and shortly after this the engines failed. Last Wednesday marked six days without contact with El Faro. Authorities called off the search for the 33 people that were aboard. This unfortunate event spurred groups to develop more autonomous technologies that would remove humans for the equation. “Drone ships” would remotely piloted by onshore captains. All the onboard operations such as navigation and power management would be handled by computer systems. Advocates for this technologies say this would make shipping safer, less expensive, and more environmentally friendly. Humans would still need to conduct maintenance and repairs when the ship comes into port, but more basic operations can be handled by robots. Rolls-Royce began developing unmanned ship technology in 2013 and last year completed a virtual reality command center that serves as a prototype for its vision. The company believe that captains will eventually be able to control hundreds of ships, in the same way military drones are piloted today. There are plenty of cons with having an autonomous vessel, for example, ship-owners would spend less to maintain their crews, and the lower weight resulting from the elimination of crew bunks, latrines, and kitchens would bring down fuel costs. This technology would also put fewer people in danger, in 2012, an estimated 75 to 96 percent of all marine casualties were attributed to human error. The ships’ crew would also not have to risk being attacked by pirates. Instead of spending months at sea, they could live at home and commute to port service for incoming ships. Don’t be fooled, there is pros as well as cons with this technology, for example, unemployment rates would increase due to the lack of human presence on the vessels. We also face the risk of our computer systems being hacked by an outside source with could lead to cargo being hijacked. Autonomous vessels still have a long way to come, but I do believe this is an example of technology advancing rapidly. In the world we live in we can either follow the technology or be left behind. Autonomous technology will be key in advancing our worlds technology