Seatrade Maritime Middle East highlights role of human intelligence in maritime safety

Smart shipping, autonomous vessels and the importance of the human element


Originally published 30 October 2018

One of the most fiercely debated maritime topics as to whether or not the maritime industry is ready to embrace smart shipping led to an animated discussion on the opening day of Seatrade Maritime Middle East 2018, which runs at Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC) until 31st October.

The resulting vote was that although the industry was ready, “we are split,” concluded debate moderator Jasamin Fichte of law firm Fichte & Co. The debate underlined that smart shipping represents “a good way forward,” she said, and while doubts remain over whether the industry is ready, “I think we are on the right way.”


Debating the question were two teams of leading industry figures, one led by Precious Shipping’s Managing Director Khalid Hashim and the other by René Kofod-Olsen, CEO of Topaz Energy and Marine.

Hashim argued that the industry was not ready because necessary regulations governing the use of new technologies such as autonomous ships, artificial intelligence (AI) and the cyber risks involved all remained some way off. In addition, a recent reader survey by Seatrade Maritime News confirmed that less than 10 per cent of shipping companies are currently making any significant use of big data, he added.

Supporting him was Ali Shehab Ahmad, Deputy CEO of Kuwait Oil Tanker Company (KOTC), who suggested that unlimited broadband at sea was still too “costly,” and that service providers should “do more” through incentives for ship operators to install new technologies.

Leading the other team, Mr Kofod-Olsen countered by saying that shipping’s use of big data and analytics is already bringing multiple benefits such as route and fuel optimisation, predictive maintenance, more efficient fleet management, and improved crew welfare. Smart shipping as defined as digitalisation of the industry ‘is already here, and expected by everyone in the office and onboard ship,” he declared.

Oskar Levander, Senior Vice-President for Concepts & Innovation at Rolls-Royce Marine, described smart shipping as a “very wide toolbox with something in it for everyone.” One highly advanced application is the remotely controlled, autonomous vessel, the first demonstration of which may be imminent, he hinted.

Drew Brandy, Senior Vice-President of Market Strategy at Inmarsat Maritime, drew the parallel with smart phones, stating simply connectivity is the reality of the modern shipping industry.