Shortage Of Seafarers Fuels Choice Of Remotely Controlled Ships

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With the average age of captains on their 350 vessels hovering around 55, Bauer expressed concerns about losing 30 percent of sailors by 2030 if no action is taken. In pursuit of a remedy, HGK has partnered with a Belgian startup in autonomous navigation

Groundbreaking Approach 

As the influx of recruits into the maritime industry diminishes, a German company, HGK Shipping, is considering a groundbreaking approach: deploying ships without onboard captains.

Based in the port of Duisburg, HGK Shipping is experimenting with remote navigation from a land-based control center, heralding a potential revolution in maritime operations.

Steffen Bauer, CEO of HGK, highlighted the necessity of autonomous vessels, stating that they are “the only solution to survive as an industry” amid dwindling recruitment.

With the average age of captains on their 350 vessels hovering around 55, Bauer expressed concerns about losing 30 percent of sailors by 2030 if no action is taken.

In pursuit of a remedy, HGK has partnered with the Belgian startup Seafar, a frontrunner in autonomous navigation. Seafar, established in 2019, already operates four unmanned vessels in Belgium and has expanded its presence to Germany, a key player in Europe’s inland shipping.

The unmanned ships are directed from a control center, transforming navigation from strenuous labor into a potentially appealing office-based occupation.

Test Phase 

In the initial test phase, two captains will remain on board the remotely guided ships.

The longer-term aim is to eliminate the captain’s role while still keeping some crew on board, Bauer said.

The technology is similar to those used in self-driving cars: the ships are fitted with sensors, cameras, radar, and lidar, transmitting data in real-time to the command center.

Everything is as it would be on board a ship,” navigator Patrick Hertoge told AFP in Duisburg next to 10 monitors displaying the status of an autonomous barge on its way to Hamburg.

Autonomous Navigation 

Autonomous navigation could bring “significant relief” to an industry under pressure but would not solve “all problems”, according to a spokesman for the German Federation of inland shipping (BDB).

New questions of responsibility” require legal clarification, he said.

According to Bargsten, in the event of a technical problem, Seafar would be liable, but a human error would be chalked up to the shipping company,

And remotely navigating a vessel is still a highly demanding job that could not just be left to “gamers”, he said.

With years of real-life captaining under his belt, Hertoge is convinced it can work.

Much of the work of captaining a ship is the same on land as it is in a control room, he said. The only thing missing is the wind.

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Source: Firstpost