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Press Article: Insurers must cut through the hype of autonomous shipping to understand the risk

05 August 2020

A fully autonomous transoceanic ship will not be commercially viable for some time. This is simply because the cost saving benefit of an unmanned ship does not currently outweigh the initial investment cost, and the benefit of people onboard overseeing the safety of the ship and its cargo. It is only a small proportion of the crew’s total time that is actually taken up by navigating the vessel and there are many other reasons why they need to be onboard, especially during cargo and berthing operations or in instances where things go wrong. 

In my opinion, we will never see an unmanned transoceanic ship with a traditional combustion engine. So far, all newbuild unmanned ships that have been commissioned for either coastal or inshore operations are being built with electric powertrains. This is because there are far fewer moving parts, meaning less regular maintenance and less mechanical breakdowns on longer voyages – all of which currently need to be dealt with by people. The current state of battery technology therefore limits both the size of an autonomous ship and how far it can travel in one voyage.

Callum O'Brien, Deputy Underwriter, European division at Standard Club, discusses his thoughts with Insurance Day on the current applications of autonomous shipping, the changing nature of the traditional shipping company and the potential impact Covid-19 may have on demand. 

The full article is available on the right (page 6) and on the Insurance Day website here.