Japanese shipping and logistics major NYK has announced plans to carry out a trial unmanned coastal voyage along the coast of Japan. It is part of a bigger plan to automate Japanese coastal shipping.
The 749 gross ton vessel, “Suzaku” is scheduled to sail in February next year from the northern part of Tokyo Bay to a point near the city “Tsu”in Ise Bay, a sea-voyage distance of about 385km. Tsu is about 315km distant in a straight-line to the south-west from Tokyo.
The route chosen will imitate a coastal shipping voyage along a heavily trafficked route.
The ship will be monitored by a remote “Fleet Operations Centre” at Makuhari, Chiba City, that will be able to remotely control the vessel in the event of an emergency. The purpose of the centre is to collect, monitor and analyze data from ships and from land. Its ultimate purpose is to be a facility that is part of a comprehensive system covering unmanned vessels that can be remotely controlled.
A bigger plan…
The purpose as a whole is to commercialise unmanned coastal ship operating, which will address a problem in Japan of labour shortages for coastal vessels.
The experience and data gained will be used to work on standardisation of technologies with the aim of full scale commercialisation by 2025.
A wide range of companies are taking part in the project including Japan Marine Science, MTI, NTT group companies (telecommunications providers), shipbuilders, insurers, and many more.
Potentially huge cost savings
If successful, autonomous ships have potential to generate considerable savings in labour, provisions and miscellaneous crew costs. Accountants BDO estimate these crew costs for a smaller container ship at about US$900,000 per year per ship. That figure rises to about US$1.14 million for a mid-range box ship of up to 6,000 TEU capacity.
Dry bulkers show similar potential for large costs savings too. Crew costs for handysize bulkers up to 40,000 deadweight can be estimated at about US$950,000 a year, and, at the other end of the ship-size range, capesize bulkers could save about US$1.1 million a year on crew costs.
Current and near-future seafarer demography
The current seafarer workforce is estimated to be 1.89 million strong, of which 858-thousand are officers and just over one million are ratings, according to the International Chamber of Shipping and Bimco. They crew approximately 74,500 ocean going merchant ships.
Globally, ICS and Bimco estimate that there is a shortage of 26-thousand officers and a surplus of 37.6-thousand ratings.
On current trends, the world fleet will likely require 947,000 officers by 2026 and just over one million ratings. That’s an annual percentage increase of about 2% for officers and 0.6% for ratings.