28 Jun 2023
by Amy McLellan

AI: We asked what keeps our members up at night

While AI is not yet the overnight game-changer some believe it to be, it is undeniably beginning to transform the landscape in most sectors – and the maritime industry is no exception.

Recent headlines would have you believe that current developments in artificial intelligence now pose an existential threat to humanity. Those who have interacted with ChatGPT may be rather less alarmed at the immediate impact of generative AI, but there’s no doubt that the many branches of computer science that fall under the AI umbrella promise to have a transformational impact on multiple industries, from medicine to financial services, and will ask some hard questions of our current economic models.   

Shipping will not be immune to these trends. It won’t come as any surprise that in our recent member’s survey, AI was found to be one of the issues that keeps our members up at night. A recent report from Lloyd’s Register and maritime innovation consultancy Thetius, Artificial Intelligence in Maritime – a learning curve, suggests the industry is set to spend US$931 million on AI solutions this year – a tally that will more than double over the next five years to US$2.7 billion as the technology is increasingly deployed across autonomous shipping, navigational support systems and vessel performance optimisation solutions.  

Image 7 Incident diagram

Credit: Shutterstock

“Artificial Intelligence is a transformational technology that will allow maritime companies across the maritime asset value chain to not only get ahead of the market, but accelerate their digital transformation and meet the challenges of the upcoming energy transition,” said Andy McKeran, LR’s Maritime Performance Services Business Director.  

In September 2022, Wallenius Wilhelmsen signed up with Greek AI company DeepSea to become the first global shipping company to adopt a fully AI-based approach to voyage optimisation, with its SVP of marine operations Geir Fagerheim saying “no human being, no matter how many years of experience they have, can compete with these automated sailing instructions.” An 18-month trial by the company had already shown DeepSea would deliver a near seven per cent improvement in vessel efficiency and a predicted reduction in emissions of more than 170,000 tonnes across the fleet. 

It’s not just in optimising route selection and fuel efficiency that AI will make an impact. Safety could also be revolutionised as smart computers that never tire or get distracted are put to work. According to AGCS, between 75 per cent and 96 per cent of shipping accidents involve human error, and this could be significantly reduced by making better use of data and analytics to spot when crew are fatigued or have high levels of near misses.  

AI advocates like to say it's not about replacing humans but enhancing their capabilities. When Greek shipping group TMS Group deployed Israel-based software company Orca AI to enhance the safety of its fleet of LNG carriers, it found it reduced the number of close encounter events by 25% and increased the average minimum distance from other vessels by 19% by enabling crew members to make better navigational decisions in real-time.  

"Autonomous technology is now a reality and augmented environments, artificial intelligence and virtual realities, are unlocking huge potential to connect ship-to-shore in new ways,” said Richard McCormick, Product Manager AES & MES systems, Survitec. “These immersive technologies will inevitably revolutionise ship safety procedures and set the bar for new lifesaving practices in the years ahead. We could soon see ship safety systems become digitally managed and highly automated.” 

While this is an industry known to move slowly – as we all bore witness in late June, the ocean is unforgiving of those who attempt to shortcut tried and tested methodologies – it may have an impact quicker than many anticipate. 

“Change will take time, as safety regulations will require updating, but the digital revolution is being quickly embraced and is accelerating fast," noted McCormick.  

Any shipping company not already exploring the potential of AI and machine learning solutions to enhance their operations could well find themselves adrift from their competitors.  

Keen to learn more about AI in the marine sector? Read our article on disruptive technologies here – or consider joining our AI Special Interest Group