IMarEST Report: Automation Will Move More Tasks to Shore

In a new report, the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science & Technology (IMarEST) says automation will alter the role of seafarers: their tasks, responsibilities and required skills. At the same time, more tasks are expected to transfer to shorebased facilities.

The capabilities and limitations of automation at sea were appraised in the report, which also grapples with the question of how humans and autonomous systems will work together in the next thirty years. The report follows a roundtable held by IMarEST’s Marine Autonomous Surface Ships Special Interest Group (MASS SIG) together with ship owners, operators, crewing managers, regulators and educators.

New Tasks, But in the Loop

The conclusions that have now been published in the report include that automation will impact every stage of a typical voyage and that a subset of tasks currently performed at sea will move to land. Although this may help reduce seafarer shortage, the participants of the roundtable expect human interaction will still be needed in the loop even by 2050.

It may not be a case of having fewer seafarers in 2050, but rather their roles may just be very different from what they are today. In the short term, this is likely to be seen by merging traditionally separate roles.

IMarEST expects the shift to increasing automation and to offboard tasks to occur across the maritime sector, with the possible exception of highly-complex specialist carriers.

Costs of New Technology Will Reduce

Whilst it was recognised that the capital expenditure of integrating technologies will be initially high, the costs of procurement will eventually reduce and take up will increase. Ultimately, of course, this will result in a noticeable reduction in operational expenditure.


Still, the challenges of integrating autonomy are well appreciated and still need to be resolved, said IMarEST. This includes, but is not limited to, the regulatory framework; responsibilities and liabilities and the assurance of safety and environmental protection. Another challenge lies in training seafarers to deal with the new technology. As Gordon Meadow, Chair, MASS SIG, points out: ‘A key challenge going forward lies not in teaching humans to trust machines – but providing them the skills and competencies to know when to stop trusting them.’

Download the full report from IMarEST’s website.

Author: Mariska Buitendijk

Mariska Buitendijk is one of SWZ|Maritime's journalists as well as the magazine's copy editor.