Covid has taught the world of shipping a lot. People can work remotely, global supply chains are fragile and travel restrictions have put immense pressure on seafarers who operate the vessels that keep supply chains running.
From a human perspective, the global travel restrictions put in place have led to crews being stuck on ships, sometimes for over a year, simply because no country allows crew changes. As a sailor, there are no evenings, weekends, holidays or holidays when you embark. The work is 24/7, 365 days a year.
You know that when you commit to a ship, but when sailors stay on ships much longer than their initial contracts, fatigue is bound to set in. This increases the risk of human error or poor judgment. The M/V Wakashio running aground and breaking up in Mauritius is a good example. Why was the ship sailing so close to shore, when he knew the risks? The crew was trying to get a phone signal so they could call their families.
Shipping companies have been considering autonomous or semi-autonomous ships for years. Crew is the third cost of running a ship, and the shipping industry is always looking for ways to cut costs and maybe Covid will be another push towards the goal of reducing dependency on the crew. respect for humans in the operation of ships.
In addition to reducing personnel costs, there is less space needed to accommodate the crew on the ships. Less crew equals less accommodation, which, in turn, equals more space to carry cargo.
Autonomous ships are not a pipe dream. It’s already possible to have a ship fully capable of navigating on its own, avoiding collisions with other ships and following traffic separation schemes, so why aren’t they already widespread?
Recent developments in machine learning and remote sensing, along with extensive remote vehicle testing, are rapidly bringing this technology closer. Although we are not quite there for the commercial lines, – there are several autonomous and semi-autonomous vessels already active at sea such as multi-purpose USVs (Unmanned Surface Vehicle).
The market size of autonomous vessels is estimated by Allied Market Research to be $85.84 billion in 2020 and is projected to reach $165.61 billion by 2030, registering a CAGR of 6.8% from 2020 to 2030.
Where I see this progressing is semi-autonomous ships. The ship handles mundane and predictable navigation, but is monitored from a shore-based operations center which can take over when needed.
An autonomous or semi-autonomous vessel will follow both the programming given to it and the data transmitted to it. What happens if this data is compromised? What if the ship is vulnerable to cyberattacks?
A cyberattack or breach can be as obvious as the vessel losing control, as we saw in the Gulf of Oman, or as subtle as a minor change in the vessel’s GPS position that is not immediately apparent. , even for an experienced user. the bridge team, such was the case of the Stena Impero.
As this technology develops faster and legislation begins to catch up with it, cybersecurity must be at the forefront of everyone’s mind as we move from semi-autonomous vessels to fully autonomous vessels, which is what the industry is heading naturally. The entire supply chain is moving towards automation and digitalization, and in the case of autonomous vessels, this also means that operations will no longer be supplanted by human intervention, which, without adequate security, will become “floating targets”.
James Soon, Managing Director of Zycraft USV Pte Ltd, said: “Cybersecurity is intimately linked to unmanned vessels. We consider these two subjects as twins or two sides of the same coin. Ships can be smartly unmanned, but confidence in that comes from strong cybersecurity because the unmanned shipowner always wants to know what that ship is doing. Remote communication is essential.
“At Zycraft, cybersecurity is at the heart of our ships’ hardware design as well as communication design. We engage with competent partners like Cydome to assess our cybersecurity approaches and also to strengthen them. We know that cybersecurity is dynamic and therefore constant monitoring is necessary.”
The one thing we can be sure of in the future is that cyberattacks against the global maritime fleet will continue and potentially increase. With 90% of the world’s economic output transported daily by ships, the value of a criminal or terrorist attack is too great for the threat to disappear. The only way to reduce the threat is to produce better defense and countermeasures and to make cybercrime less rewarding. That’s why we reinvest a significant percentage of our revenues in R&D.
There was a time when security measures were all about “detect and recover,” but that flawed model is long gone. To be safe in the future, the model must be “detect and block”.
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