Discussions on digitalisation featured heavily at Riviera Maritime Media’s Asian Tanker Conference in Singapore. Some of the most striking takeaways came from the contrasting – and strongly held – views around maritime digitalisation and communications.
Presentations on digital innovation and transformation were well received. A couple of audience polls underlined a willingness to match enthusiasm with investment in new software and technologies to improve a company’s competitiveness.
When attendees were asked what type of software they believed would boost competitiveness over the next two years 54% said predictive analytics software; 39% said commercial chartering and operations management software; 29% said onboard reporting hardware or software; and 7% said accounting or other back office software. 59% said that they expected their company’s IT budget to increase in the year ahead and 30% said it would be maintained.
However, the industry’s enthusiasm has its boundaries, notably when it comes to the idea of a fully autonomous tanker. Three distinct, but related objections were apparent.
First, the financial risk. The notion that a company would be willing to run a 25-year-old vessel autonomously was met with incredulity. “Do you know how much a ship costs?” was one refrain.
Equally derided was the idea that vessels were now running on shorter lifecycles. “Let me bring the idea that I am going to depreciate a 25-year-old asset over 10 years to my accountant! What kind of industry is that going to make for our ourselves?”
The second objection is the insurance risk – a concern only amplified by an excellent presentation on cyber security.
And the third concern was that at a time where attention and resource is concentrated on complying with ever more stringent environmental regulation, autonomous vessels are an unwanted distraction.
Memories of the protracted passage of ballast water treatment legislation and the associated compliance and enforcement saga are raw and for many still an open wound.
“We couldn't even get a ballast water standard agreed. Could you imagine pilots and the US Coast Guard agreeing what type of autonomous ship can go halfway up the Mississippi river?” Ardmore Shipping’s chief operating officer Mark Cameron pithily observed. “[Autonomous tankers] are a long way away. Let's make it a by-product rather than something we need committees for – even though these committees are already here.”
So, what’s the bottom line? For today’s tanker operators autonomous vessels are for the space age. This week’s Asian Tanker Conference showed owners and operators are overwhelmingly seeking software that will deliver immediately in this, the accountancy age.