Investment decisions and Regulations
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This article is written by Naman Sherstra from Department of Law, University of Calcutta. The future scope of autonomous shipping industry and decisions of investment in the sector is depicted in the article.


Everyone is aware of the RMS Titanic incident which had caused more than 1500 casualties on its maiden voyage in 1912. Large containers and ships often face risks of extreme bad climatic conditions “and” sea pirates endangering the lives of its crew members. Recent statistics on maritime accidents show that  1163 lives including 197 million dollars were lost due to human fault in the year 2017. In order to reduce such accidents, automation has been considered in the shipping industry. In the modern era technology is getting advanced day by day. Like the automobile industry, the marine industry is also going to reshape with the help of digitalisation. In the future, the commercial ships are going to be operated without the help of manpower. The global market players are looking at it as a global opportunity to invest in the “future industry”.

Autonomous Ships

Autonomous ships, also known as autonomous containers or “Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS)”, are the seaborne vessels that transport containers and bulk cargo operated automatically through navigation transport. These ships will be equipped with modern advanced technologies working with the help of artificial intelligence algorithms. A fully autonomous ship will be the one which will be operated without crew members. However, for certain purposes, there will be some of the crew members to avoid technological hurdles. According to a news agency “Forbes”, the first automated ship was a ferry introduced in Finland with the collaboration of german giant Rolls-Royce and Finferries, a Finland state-owned ferry operator. The fully-fledged ship  ‘’MV Yara Birkeland’’ was launched in the sea in Romania in February 2020. This ship was supposed to reach Norwegian shipyard in May for installation of the technological equipment. However, COVID-19 pandemic has put a hold on all the further developments. Recently Kongsberg, a Norwegian company, became a leader in the field of autonomous shipping industry after it acquired the maritime division from the British automobile Giant Rolls Royce. Samsung, a South Korean technological giant which uses artificial intelligence, is also planning to land in this industry through Samsung Heavy Industries Division.

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Scope in the future 

The global shipping companies are looking at autonomous shipping as a golden opportunity in the future. Companies from Scandinavia and Japan are working on their fully-fledged ships which would be capable of carrying logistics and cargoes in the future. This will also give a booze up to the tech industry as the companies will come forward and collaborate with the shipping companies for providing data, sensors and AI technologies. As the logistics and chain supply industry is also forecasted to have a slump in its market as most of the logistics are supplied by air cargo. It is estimated that such developments will reduce the fuel costs by 20% which will surely be a positive part of the logistics industry. 

The autonomous shipping industry is also expected to create new jobs in the future. The changes that the industry will undergo will surely bring technically equipped jobs which include technical route operators, new kinds of pilots and riding gangs. Despite this,  the legal framework will also be required for operating such shipping companies. The International maritime organisation, a United Nations Agency, has started working to develop a legal framework and global conventions for the operation of such unmanned ships. This will also create new legal jobs in the autonomous shipping industry.


Autonomous shipping is considered to have a more beneficial development over the manually controlled one. This development will be better for business, environment and making the voyage safer. The advantages of upcoming technology are given below:

Major cost cut in shipbuilding and crew amenities

The accommodation of crew members, safety measures with manual handling eat up major costs in developing a manually controlled ship. The automated ship will be built with less investment as there will be no need for management of accommodation and sanitary systems. The change in the design also accounts for a reduction in the fuel consumption which will also save fuel cost of the ship. Despite it in a budget, 30 percent of the expenses account for the living costs of the crew members. A research done by MUNIN (Maritime Unmanned Navigation through Intelligence in Networks) projects that an autonomous ship will save 7 million dollars from fuel and crew members expenses over 25 years. So, autonomy will bring a major cost cut in the future ships and such cost will be used in technological advancements and other things.

Increase in safer ship operations

Autonomous ships are safer as 75% of the maritime accidents are caused by human error which leads to colossal losses. Such ships shall be remotely controlled by the technically advanced crews from the port. On a voyage, the crew members have to face a tough life being socially disconnected from the family. Sometimes, due to maritime accidents, crew members lose their lives in between the sea. So, the autonomous ships will provide a safer and socially connected life on the land from where they have full control over their ships.

Causing less harm to the environment

The autonomous ships will consume less fuel due to its compact design after the removal of crew amenities.The luxury accomodation and lifestyle of the crew onboard also accounts for the pollution in the sea. So, as such ships are going to be operated unmanned. Hence, there will be lesser harm to the environment.


Advanced technologies will increase the cost of ship building and maintenance

The autonomous ships will be technically equipped with advanced technologies    based on Artificial intelligence algorithms. Since there are very few companies which  are providing such technical support to the shipping industry, such technical support may eat up a major part of building costs. The maintenance and  repairing of such ships will also require technically efficient crews which may increase the maintenance costs of the ships.

Reduction in jobs

The unmanned shipping operations will directly affect the jobs of seafarers and crew members. The traditional seafarers will be replaced by the technically equipped ones who will control its offshore. A data published in unmanned cargo on an online portal states that the autonomous ships are going to snatch away the jobs of more than 610,000 officers deployed in the workforce.

Hurdles of repairment during breakdown amidst the voyage

Autonomous ships are cost-effective due to  non-deployment of the workforce on the ships. However, at an earlier stage the companies have to spend huge amounts for setting up the operational infrastructure near the seashore or port for monitoring the fleet movement. Despite it, the ships are often subjected to extreme weather conditions in a voyage which causes technological or mechanical breakdown. The manually operated ships have engineers and technical manforce deployed in order to tackle such breakdowns and maintenance. The unmanned ship lacks such facilities as the operators have to face difficulties to move with the heavy maintenance parts which may result in delay of the operations. 

Threat of Cyber Hazards

Great connectivity often brings great risks. The autonomous ships also have to face the major challenges of cyber hijacking. As these automated ships have to face the risks of cyber pirates who can hijack the vessel taking it into its control. According to “Helpnet Security”, an online news portal, The United States Coast guards on July 8, 2019, issued a safety alert of cyber attacks on ships to the shipping companies. The cyberattacks on the ships are also a threat to data privacy and cause economic losses.   


International Maritime Organisation (IMO) is a United Nations specialized agency which is responsible for making regulatory framework for shipping across the world. The regulatory framework of IMO includes maritime security, legal framework, and environmental issues. The development of automated shipping requires a global legal framework for its operation. Morten Lindolsen, CEO of Dualog, a leading shipping company, in an event ”Sea Asia 2019” said that the IMO works normally slow and it may take up to 15 years to enact global regulations governing the operations of automated shipping. However, the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) of IMO has said that it has laid down the guidelines by approving a framework for a regulatory scoping exercise on Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships. Generally, technical changes take place in a  very fast manner rather than the regulatory frameworks. The positive approach of IMO shows that it will develop the regulatory provisions for the operation of such unmanned aircraft in a short future period.
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Is it a profitable investment?

The autonomous shipping industry has been seen as a booming industry by the leading market players. Like the automated vehicles, the automated ships will replace the manually operated ones. The Japanese companies and leading British Automobile Company “Rolls-royce” are going to invest millions into the research and development of this industry. They believe that the help of Artificial Intelligence technology will make the work effective and now the major challenges are how reliable the development is going to be in the future so that the regulators can approve it. According to “Port Technology international” a shipping industry news portal, Sea Machine a company developing Autonomous Technology for the maritime time has asserted to have received 10 million USD as capital from the global logistics firms like Toyota AI ventures and A.P Moller-Maersk and Startup company Eniac Ventures. This is the first series of payments. The Company claims to receive more funds in the future after observing the size of the market and further developments. However, new startups are always subjected to the market risks as the investors have the fear of getting their investments sunk but as Artificial intelligence is going to be implemented in almost every sector it can be said that the shipping sector will also come up with a positive response in the future.

Many companies are expecting to have a late market entry as they believe that it is quite early to predict how beneficial their investments are going to be in this sector. There are different things where the investment can be done at this early stage. Artificial Intelligence techniques with sensors, are those sectors which are going to be in higher demand in the future. Investing in such sectors is going to be safer. Japan is seen as ahead of all nations in terms of open-investment in this technology. A news article asserts that the Japanese Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transportation and Tourism is going to start a joint project between Mitsui O.S.K. Lines and Mitsui Engineering & Shipbuilding Co. in order to develop autonomous ships. The companies believe that by the year 2025 its vessels will be floating across the globe. So, it will be a safer decision to invest in the early adopters and reliable market players like Rolls Royce and the aforementioned Japanese players because these will stay ahead in the market leaving a way behind to its competitors.


The autonomous ships are going to be a great technological development of the era. Like automated road transport, the future ships will be equipped with AI techniques making the work efficient. The global automobile companies like Rolls Royce and technical giants like Samsung have got a new contours of business in the market. The global market is expected to be equipped with the unmanned ships by the end of 2025. But still there are aspects on which the whole development depends. The IMO is yet to come up with the regulatory framework for the operations of such ships. There is certainly speculation going in the market about the success of such technology on the larger vessels. The larger vessels are however expected to have equipped with few crews for adverse conditions. On the first instance, the shorter boats and ferries will be used by shipping companies carrying cargo to shorter distances. The future of the larger automated vessels will totally depend on the success of such shorter boats. The expectation of cheaper transportation will also affect the market rates of global products. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all the developments are in the period of isolation for the further period which will further resume “post-pandemic”.


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