In the age of technological developments in autonomy, and other major trends in the maritime industry, autonomous or ‘unmanned’ ships being pushed by some shipbuilding companies have no place for the tanker sector, according to an officer of Ardmore Shipping, a company engaged in the ownership and operation of product and chemical tankers in worldwide trade

Ardmore Shipping Chief Commercial Officer Gernot Ruppelt, in an interview with Maritime News obtained by Tinig ng Marino in their website, said although the shipping industry is putting greater focus on making remote and autonomous ships a reality, the flurry of developments in this field might not be in the best interest of all shipping markets.

Ruppelt explained that digital disruption and steps taken towards green shipping, including digitalization, he said that tankers would not benefit from vessel autonomy

“At this stage, we don’t see a market for unmanned shipping in the tanker sector. The only way this will happen is with the approval of the oil majors for this technology and that simply isn’t plausible at this stage. We don’t envisage them being happy with no crew on board and without their approval, there is no market for it in the tanker sector,” Ruppelt added.

Furthermore, he said that the company has no involvement in the development of unmanned ships.

He explained that the company “would prefer to see more resources being invested into emissions reduction technology, which is a higher priority for the industry than autonomous shipping.”

When asked about the industry’s efforts to shrink its environmental footprint, Ruppelt said that the industry is willing to invest in new technologies in order to cut emissions, “but the best way to achieve this is to align it with an organization’s commercial priorities.”

“Where a reduction in emissions is driven by lower fuel consumption and a lower fuel bill, there is a natural commercial incentive that can be unlocked. Many ship owners want to play their part in cutting emissions, and technology has a huge role to play if it is priced at the right level and has gone through verifiable trials to demonstrate its effectiveness. However, we also need charterers to join the debate and to commit to supporting emissions-reduction technologies,” he said

He further explained that dealing with the technology that is not yet proven to be successful would mean a high cost.

“There will always be a tension between the claims made by technology innovators, who are understandably passionate about what they believe their solutions can deliver, and the threshold that must be satisfied before a shipping company gets out its cheque book. For an owner, the cost of getting it wrong can be very high. I wouldn’t say that the industry is in denial, but everyone is a little cautious about being the first mover when it comes to new technologies. I would describe Ardmore as an early adopter, if not a pioneer, and we have certainly seen the benefits of embracing new technology,” Ruppelt said.

Ruppelt was also asked regarding his take to the related changes to cyber-security, Internet of things and bandwidth which are said to be of great importance for the maritime industry as well.

“We welcome investment into new technology that has the potential to improve safety and performance in the shipping industry. From our perspective, the most important development to date has been in the use of remote monitoring and ship-to-shore connectivity to deliver real-time performance optimization. We have installed one of the best navigation and engine link systems, with centralized sensors to communicate with shore.” the company CCO noted.

When asked about Ardmore Shipping’s plans to further expand the fleet with more secondhand/newly built ships, following the acquisition of the 2008-built product tanker Challenge Pearl in 2017, Ruppelt said that the company would evaluate each opportunity “if good suitable candidates for purchase become available.”

“We always encourage restraint in newbuild orders, rather than a return to over-ordering. However, we will always ensure that we have the capability to act if the right opportunity presents itself, in the form of high quality ships at the right price,” Ruppelt ended.

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