MT is the Dutch trade association focusing on maritime technology and has more than 400 members,

including shipyards, marine equipment suppliers and service providers. Before joining NMT in 2007, Marnix spent 17 years with the Dutch Ministry of Defence where he was involved in a number of Research & Development projects for the Royal Netherlands Navy, and this was when he began working alongside MARIN.

For Marnix it is clear why the sector is so interested in the development of autonomous shipping. On the one hand, there is now the technical push, he explains. Technology is advancing at a very fast rate, the industry has the sensor capability and coupled with this, there is the availability of the Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, robotics and big data. “We are living in a technical world where digitalisation is going very fast. This paves the way for autonomy in shipping.”

Safety & higher productivity Another major driver is the ‘market pull side’. “There is always a wish to increase efficiency of operations in shipping and to have higher productivity, and this in turn can mean reducing the crew. Safety is a very important issue too. There is an ongoing debate if systems are ‘better’ than humans i.e. systems don’t get tired etc. And AI/big data can be utilised to optimise the ships operation, in terms of the ship’s track and speed profile for example.”

Marnix is quick to stress that autonomous shipping should not be confused with unmanned shipping. He defines autonomous shipping as ‘taking actions without human interference in disturbances and deviations from the normal situation, based on a wealth of data from sensors and other data sources’. It does not mean that the ship is unmanned, but that some of the crew’s functions onboard are transferred to Artificial Intelligence.

SeaZip 3 and Octans during Autonomous Shipping trials

From the ship to shore And for Marnix, the subject should not be considered only in the context of a fully autonomous ship - which is still quite a long way off - but more in terms of the autonomy of specific systems. “There are the various levels of autonomy defined by the IMO, ranging from decision support functions to ultimately full autonomy where all operational tasks onboard are substituted by AI and the autonomous system decides. Systems will take the decisions and there will be link to a shore station which will

monitor them and may even override the decisions of ships. Increasingly tasks that would have been done by the ship will be done on shore.”

There are already several examples of autonomy in the market, he adds. These include the one-man bridge in the dredging world where parts of the operation are done autonomously. “The suction pipe can be handled automatically. The system is taking its own decision based on the input parameters. DP systems are another

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