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ICS: Seafarers Won't Lose Jobs to Automation Yet

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By MarEx 2018-10-16 18:47:30

The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) has released a new study on the potential effects of autonomous ships on the role of seafarers, indicating that there will be no shortage of jobs for seafarers, especially officers, in the next two decades. 

The report, conducted by the Hamburg School of Business Administration, states: “If by 2025 very optimistically some 1,000 ships will be fully autonomous and some further 2,000 vessels semi-autonomous, this may possibly reduce demand for seafarers by 30,000 – 50,000. However, at the same time the need for highly skilled remote-operators, pilots of a new kind and riding gangs will be needed to keep ships operational.”

With an overall increase of the world fleet, at least the number of officers on board will remain stable. At the same time the number of “crew” on shore in supporting functions will increase, possibly significantly. This leaves valuable time to adapt training patterns and re-train experienced seafarers with digital competencies.

Many seafarers from developing countries may find it difficult to get work ashore in their home countries, states the report. Ratings rely on the remuneration they receive to support both their immediate and also extended families and therefore are extremely concerned that their jobs may disappear with automation. Many ratings join the profession following in the footsteps of their parents and grandparents and are therefore concerned that this career path may not become available for their offspring in the future.

Labor unions have voiced their concern. The February issue of The Nautilus Telegraph reported on the feedback that it had received from a survey of over 1,000 members from 21 unions within the Nautilus Federation. The majority of feedback suggested that automation was seen a threat to maritime professional’s jobs and that unmanned vessels presented a safety threat at sea. The study argued that the rush by manufacturers and maritime nations into investing capital and time into researching autonomous systems and digitalization for ships has meant that important social and human issues such as skills are being neglected.

A paper published by the International Transport Federation and the International Federation of Shipmasters’ Associations at MSC99 cited the risk of collision and unregulated activities. It indicated that over 80 percent of seafarers have voiced their anxiety about possible job losses. 

The ICS report notes that this shows that automation is likely to face opposition from seafarers and their unions if introduced in a manner which focuses primarily on the rush to be first and cost cutting for the sake of cost cutting. It also highlights that gaining public acceptance may also be an issue which will influence the decisions made by lawmakers and regulators.

The relationship between seafarers and digitalization is anticipated to be one of the main topics for discussion during an International Labour Organization sectoral meeting on “Recruitment and Retention of Seafarers and the Promotion of Opportunities for Women Seafarers” to be held in Geneva in February 2019.