Nautilus news

Painful transitions lie ahead for seafarers on automation and emission reductions under the 'fourth propulsion revolution'

8 October 2019

Changes brought by automation and new technology for de-carbonisation will be hard and disruptive to seafaring and future seafaring skills, and the time to prepare is now, warned Guy Platten, the secretary general of the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS).

In his keynote speech to the Nautilus International General Meeting in Rotterdam, Mr Platten said new digital ways of communicating and connecting would dramatically change the maritime industry over the next 10 years, in what the ICS calls the 'fourth propulsion revolution'. 

The shipping industry was 'at a turning point', and the transition would be 'painful', but the tide of change could not be held back, said Mr Platten. 'Whereas previous industrial revolutions were characterised by advances in technology, now the underlying advances will be in communication and connectivity rather than just technology.'

These technologies have 'great potential to connect millions more people to the web, including new satellite networks to every single ship and port in the world, so we have the capacity to drastically improve efficiency of business and organisations and help regenerate the natural environment through better asset management,' commented Mr Platten, who also fielded a range of questions on the topic from Nautilus members.

'New skills and new approaches will be the currency of success,' he said, although he acknowledged some member's comments that 'old skills' and experience would always be necessary.

But he also threw the gauntlet down to the Union and its members on the need to halve emissions, which meant delivering zero carbon fuel ship orders: 'That means you as a union need to engage in that debate now.'

He predicted the International Maritime Organization's 2018 Paris Agreement for shipping emissions was going to be 'the most important transformation facing the maritime sector since the transition from sail to steam'.

But change required trade-offs, and new ways of working, insisted Mr Platten in response to Nautilus Council member Captain Jessica Tyson's question on loss of core seafaring skills in the race to adapt for automation. 'We won't get away from core traditional skills, but certainly some skills will have to evolve, and I want to make sure young people have the best possiblity for adapting,' he said.

In spite of member concerns about the need to overhaul certification training, Mr Platten remained confident of good career opportunities for young seafarers, but warned their mental health needs, and competent training standards would be the cornerstone of the existing 1.6m seafarers and those of future entrants. 'We will always need highly skilled highly trained highly motivated seafarers.'

The ICS has proposed to review the STCW Convention, added Mr Platten. 'A fully revised STCW Convention will provide the needed structure for the demands of a rapidly developing world fleet.'

In response to a question from former Nautilus Council member Malcolm Graves on the potential number of seafarers needed for the future, Mr Platten said the ICS aimed to commission a survey on that in 2020.