Autonomous Ships: The Future of Cargo Shipping?

Artificial intelligence (AI) will revolutionize how many industries operate and the logistics industry is no exception. FGN is actively implementing new technologies that will improve productivity and customer experience, but we are not the only company pushing the boundaries of technology in search of higher profitability.

Autonomous ships are an area where we see AI driving change. As the ocean shipping industry faces increasing costs, environmental regulations, and labor shortages, we see more and more steamship companies implementing sophisticated artificial intelligence in a march toward crewless vessels.

The potential benefits to autonomous ships are many. They will obviously reduce crew expense and possibly reduce safety related costs. But as importantly, they will introduce efficiencies into operations by using data analysis to operate more efficiently in the myriad of sea and weather conditions that ships face on a daily basis. That in turn will save energy expense, which is the largest single cost driver in the ocean shipping business.

However, there are significant challenges that need to be addressed before autonomous ships can become a large-scale reality. They include:

  • Technical Challenges: Autonomous ships require a myriad of sensors, software and communications systems to function properly. These technologies are still under development, refinement, and certainly don’t come without some risk.
  • Legal Challenges: The regulatory framework for autonomous ships is in development by the International Maritime Organization. The scoping exercise, known as MASS (Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships), has been completed and a non-mandatory MASS Code is scheduled to take effect in 2025 with a goal of the mandatory code to be enforced in the beginning in 2028.
  • Public Acceptance: There is some public concern about the safety of autonomous ships. Like concerns seen around autonomous vehicles, people worry that crewless vessels could be hacked and/or malfunction and cause accidents.

Despite the challenges, there is a lot of interest in further development of autonomous ships. Several companies have implemented autonomous ship technology and have pilot projects in progress.

At FGN, we continue to look for creative ways to integrate new technologies into our international freight logistics business and provide the maximum benefit to our customers. We look forward to watching the growth in the autonomous shipping industry and monitoring any opportunities to incorporate this technology into the bulk liquid market.

Written by Juli Herndon

July 14, 2023