Empires have been built on the back of maritime trade and naval forces.
Ships are among the oldest means of transport and have been present across civilisations in various forms throughout the history of mankind, fuelling humanity’s desire to explore and expand.
They have connected the civilisations, and alongside that accounted for the spread of knowledge, science, art, customs, religions, and belief. Having been an integral part of society they are still the major link in global trade.
The marine industry has rapidly evolved throughout the ages, responding to new developments and designs, throughout ancient times to the present day, with oars, sails, radio, chronometer and longitude, steam and internal combustion engines and GPS etc. At some stage of maritime history these developments made an impact on the shipping industry and brought about various changes in the working and outreach of shipping.
The marine industry continues to evolve, according to new developments in the world. Recently digitalisation and decarbonisation have been very big key game change drivers ashore in many industries, from manufacturing, cars, services, malls, and entertainment. It has also landed on the deck of the marine industry.
By 2050 we are likely to see the marine industry being more highly digitalised and environment friendly, with less environmental impact. However, at the same time, the gains have to be achieved by our being all inclusive, and according to principles of equality, be it gender or nationality, and by removing any other bias.
The way that research and experimentation are going, it is likely that people will be replaced, or at least reduced, on board by Artificial Intelligence and machines. The Morse key was replaced by the keyboard, and the availability of cheap internet has put more and more ship processes online. Vessels are likely to become increasingly more online and controlled from shore.
Short route ferries and coastal transport may be fully automated AI-driven, and so without the need for humans to be on board, just like the driverless metro trains which are very common in many parts of the world. On the same parallel, we can have some dedicated routes marked and berths allocated for these types of vessels. On very short routes this may be more advantageous, as it may rule out many accidents and incidents which can be caused by fatigue and overwork.
There can be symbiosis between humans and machines, too, on vessels where some of the tasks are more controlled by AI and machines, with human crew only overseeing and interacting as required, and this will of course mean further reduction in the number of crew.
Vessels may have drone delivery modules on board, which may be used for small parcels and items, taking off directly from a vessel and landing in a warehouse or at some other destination. With no crane or human interaction required for loading or discharging, and with AI and computers controlling all, multiple such operations may happen simultaneously, saving time and energy. Such might not even require a vessel to call in at a port, but could be done by just passing by, say, a small town or inaccessible coastline, thus providing much desired connectivity.
To achieve this, and also lead to the development of many disadvantaged areas and small ports, governments and industry need to come together, as a lot of groundwork would need to be done. For example, future navigators and navigation are likely to be very different, and the present personnel need to be prepared and open to attaining new skill sets. The human mind does not accept change easily, and the industry needs to look after its key assets and help them in the transition by providing training and new skills. The art of navigation, developed by human interaction and experience, will still be required at some level.
With so many benchmarks already achieved towards a green shipping industry, decarbonisation will blend in with the changes and developments being made for energy efficiency and in reducing the carbon footprint.
It is also important to try out various hybrid power generation methods. Wind and solar power are one of the greenest resources, and freely available at sea. Tides are already being experimented with, and such can be very useful in offshore industries for power generation and thus reducing fossil fuel dependency.
The old sail may again find its way back, in the form of a new avatar, albeit that the industry has been motorised and digitalised to reap maximum benefit, as it can usually be relied on along the routes of predominant trade winds, according to the long usage that coined that phrase. Conversely, automatic deployment, control and changeover may be done seamlessly by computer and AI-controlled equipment and machines.
With better availability of marine weather forecasts, routes can be better planned so as to use the natural resources of wind, sun and ocean currents for such hybrid vessels. Profit is what keeps corporations in existence, and thus taking fossil fuels out of the equation may bring better profits and higher decarbonisation, even if only for certain routes. As now, all this will involve major data, and again digitalisation is there to help.
Just as incoming tides raise everything, inclusivity, and uplifting of all connected to the marine industry, should be foremost. It is important to provide equal opportunity to women at sea. Great strides are being made by a few, but a lot still needs to be achieved if we really want to see the marine industry being a source of equal opportunity. The time to act on this was yesterday, rather than is now. Providing a safe and welcoming environment, spreading more awareness, bringing plans to fruition – not by a few, but by most industry players – will offer much better benefits.
Governments can help by developing and implementing policies that cause more corporations to provide, rather than deny, opportunities to women. As with green incentives, those with good gender equality programmes should be rewarded, hence more players move towards equal opportunity for women, and at the same time lessening any other human bias in the industry. Captain! Change Ahoy!!!
Capt. Tejinder Singh – “Lowlands Horizon”