At least as safe as manned shipping? Autonomous shipping, safety and “human error”
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A paradigm shift is presently underway in the shipping industry promising safer, greener and more efficient ship traffic with unmanned, autonomous vessels. In this article, we will look at some of these promises. The expression “autonomous” and “unmanned” are often used interchangeably. We will therefore start out by suggesting a taxonomy of automation and manning of these ships. We will then go on examining the promise of safety. An hypotheses of increased safety is often brought forward and we know from various studies that the number of maritime accidents that involves what is called “human error” ranges from some 70–90 percent. If we replace the human with automation, can we then reduce the number of accidents? And is there a potential for new types of accidents to appear? Risk assessment will be a valuable tool, but will only reach as long as to the “known unknowns”.