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Shipping Pilots: What happens next?

By Dr. Robert L. Gordon | 10/24/2016 | 5:26 AM

Finland has moved forward to declare that they will have autonomous vessels available by 2025.  Although this appears to be a bold statement, it will likely actually happen sooner.  Shipping has been behind in technology for a while, however, with just a push, shipping can move to the forefront of automation.  Navigational systems are already available that allow a single person to pilot a vessel.  That sounds pretty sophisticated, but when you compare it to new airplanes that can be landed by personnel in the tower, it seems that ships are a little behind.

Autonomous automobiles will become a fact of life in a matter of years.  Airplanes can already be landed remotely, so it will only be a matter of time before ships will no longer need a local pilot.  Alternatively, if a pilot is needed, the pilot would be able to take control of the vessel without ever having to endure the risky maneuver of climbing on board.    

The injury statistics are clear that the pilot transfer can be one of the riskiest parts of the job of a local pilot.  More pilots are killed while either boarding or departing the vessel, than in the performance of their duties.  After all, climbing a tricky pilot ladder in shifting seas can be pretty harrowing.  A fall from the pilot ladder can be fatal, although the different precautions and safety steps were taken in advance.   It would appear that given the dangerous nature of the operation, remotely operating a vessel would be a safer option.  However, shipping is not swift to embrace most technologies and so there would have to be significant testing and industry acceptance before such a leap of faith could be made. 

Although the safety of the pilot is important, the safety of the ship is paramount.  The question that regulators and nations will struggle with will be, is it safer than the current system?  Over time, there is no doubt that it will be shown to be safer.  After all, people are slowing accepting self-piloting cars and recently in the U.S. that once ‘evade and avoid’ systems are implemented, delivery drones will become a fact of life.

In the past, technology moved at a pace where governments had time to consider different restricting legislation and local laws.  Now, technology is moving so fast that both national and international governing bodies are struggling to keep up with the waves of innovation.  Clearly, there will need to be faster ways to implement new rules, and this will be one of the future challenges for governing bodies in the future.



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About Dr. Robert Lee Gordon

Dr. Robert Lee Gordon

Dr. Robert Lee Gordon is program director of the Reverse Logistics department at American Public University. Dr. Gordon has over twenty-five years of professional experience in supply chain management and human resources. He holds a Doctorate of Management and Organizational Leadership and a Masters of Business Administration from the University of Phoenix, as well earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in History from UCLA. Dr. Gordon has spent more than 14 years teaching reverse logistics, transportation, project management, and human resources. He has published articles on reverse logistics; supply chain management; project management; human resources; education, and complexity. He has also published four books on Reverse Logistics Management; Complexity and Project Management; Virtual Project Management Organizations, and Successful Program Management..

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