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South East Australia Nautical Institute Branch Quarterly meeting –
Sydney 12 Feb 2020

Presentation – Smart Ships: Smart Ports
Presenter – Capt. Rob Tanner AFNI, Senior Pilot, Port Kembla, NSW.

Report: Rob began the presentation going back to 1974 to one of his first ships MV British Cormorant with 42 crew onboard and compared it to a current regular visitor to Port Kembla, NYK’s car carrier ‘MV Iris Leader’.

The modern-day vessel has a complement of 20 and the only thing the two ships really have in common would be the radar and the autopilot.

Kendall Carter Branch Secretary
(left) and Rob Tanner AFNI

MV Iris Leader is one of the world’s first vessels trialling autonomous operations, and last year sailed for around 6 hours autonomously from China to Japan. Rob reckons “this is the way of things to come” and all this has to do with the change of pace in technology.

Last year Rob attended an Autonomous Ship Technology Conference in Amsterdam. The presentations mostly related to current and emerging shipboard technology and that humans will be replaced by that technology. Humans were held to be superfluous as they are, it is alleged, the root cause of most shipboard incidents. Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) ship owners would not have to consider any safety provisions or hotel services allowing more cargo space to be available. This stimulated his thinking to explore what skills and knowledge seafarers would need in the future and how the maritime industry will address those skills and knowledge requirements.
Some of the major presentations were on vision technology where they talked about Lidar (Light detection and ranging) and 360 deg thermal camera imaging, which are then processed and fused with radar and ECDIS inputs to provide options for multi target tracking and predictions for collision avoidance.

Cyber security, a major topic, ensures that control of the vessel is never lost and access to GPS is continuous and secure. To prevent cyber-attacks a possible solution is to have Information & Communication Technologies (ICT) trained humans, and authenticated access to protect against system entry by cyber pirates.

Another topic discussed by ship brokers and maritime lawyers was on the liability of MASS. Some said that the liability would lay with the remote operator, or for level 4 MASS v/ls which are totally unmanned it could be with the shipowner / operator or software engineers. Another interesting point is at this time there is no legal definition of what an Autonomous v/l is.
A speaker from an oil major made a bold statement “we need to get rid of the bits of string”; of course referring to mooring lines on vessels. Mooring lines cause injuries and deaths far too often and in the interest of safety should be replaced with mooring devices such as suction or magnetic mooring fender systems. Which got Rob thinking “that smart ships of the future will require smart seafarers & smart ports”.

What is a Smart Port? A Smart Port is one that uses automation and innovative technologies including Artificial Intelligence (AI), Big Data, Internet of Things (IoT) and Blockchain to improve its performance.
All these are new technologies that will lead us to a brighter and connected future. The need for smart ports is more relevant today than ever. Ships are getting bigger, goods are moving faster and geo-political conflicts and pandemics such as Covid -19 create new challenges for ports to deal with all around the world.

In a conversation that Rob had with Jillian Carson Jackson (Senior VP Nautical Institute) on the topic, Jillian made some very valid comments “that we need to investigate shipping lanes and controlled water space, digital communications and its associated data collection and the legal framework to underpin the innovation.”

Yara Birkeland – this year will see Norwegian owned and operated fully electric powered zero emission autonomous feeder vessel ‘Yara Birkeland’ commence operations in Norway. It will cut down 40,000 long distance truck journeys and has auto-mooring equipment which requires no manual handling. Initially the vessel will be manned, until everyone is satisfied that unmanned operations are safe to continue. The ship will revolutionise supply chain transport in Norway and the commercial template may very well start a new supply chain logistics task in Australia. The arrival of an autonomous vessel at an Australian port may be sooner than everyone thinks, and we have to start preparing for it.

What is autonomy? Rob talked about when mentioning autonomous ships, it must be emphasised that it’s not necessarily talking about just unmanned vessels and that many people misunderstand what the meaning of autonomy is. It can be manned, but everything onboard can be automated. Autonomy is said to be a process rather than an end in itself. A journey towards increased or full automation of a system and the reason to introduce autonomy is to improve systems performance. Increased autonomy is thought to be interconnected with less environmentally damaging emissions, increased efficiency and safety.

Humans will support the autonomous onboard system with the likelihood of decreased incidents due to human error. With this in mind a human centred approach is required when considering the design of shipboard systems, so that people and machine can work together as a team.

A recent report from the World Maritime University in Norway looked at how automation and technology will affect the future workforce. The report said that the process will be evolutionary, rather than revolutionary. The transport sector will become more efficient as more automation is introduced, which will lead to improved productivity. The transport volume is expected to increase into the future, with a projected need for more transport workers.

Australian ship and port operators need to engage with the vision and prepare for the future by observing what is happening elsewhere in the world and learn from their experiences. As Rob says smart ships will require smart ports. One example of a smart port operation is Searoad Shipping in their Melbourne and Tasmanian port operations where they introduced a mooring system that didn’t involve mooring lines, which has greatly increased safety and efficiency into their operation. Australia has the 5th largest shipping task in the world, and a few years ago it was reported that the maritime sector contributed approximately $20 billion to the national economy annually. Foreign flag ships carry nearly all of the 98% of goods coming into and out of Australia, and yet we do not have a domestic fleet of any significance.

A possible future for our island continent is to use the ‘Blue Highway’ that surrounds us with small manoeuvrable zero emissions ships. These would reduce bottlenecks in our major ports, reduce traffic congestion and pollution around major cities by taking many thousands of trucks off the roads, and encouraging us to become more efficient and environmentally sustainable.
Rob realises that there is a clear gap in the important understanding of how humans will need to be involved with autonomous ships and smart ports as we look ahead. This has provoked Rob to ask the question; What is the future of Australian ports and shipping and how do we build and maintain the necessary knowledge and skills for the humans in the loop?

Capt. Patrick Walsh AFNI.
Assist Secretary SE Australia NI.

Article Update Links:

Joint Open Letter to United Nations Agencies from the Global Maritime Transport Industry .... Click Here.

Certification of Seafarers - pursuant to Covid-19 ..... Click Here