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Ship operators explore autonomous sailing

Rolls Royce

The U.K.’s Rolls-Royce is leading the Advanced Autonomous Waterborne Applications initiative involving other companies and universities.

“All hands on deck” may become a thing of the past.

Ship designers, their operators and regulators are gearing up for a future in which cargo vessels sail the oceans with minimal or even no crew. Advances in automation and ample bandwidth even far offshore could herald the biggest change in shipping since diesel engines replaced steam.

Ship operators believe more automation will enable them to optimize ship use, including cutting fuel consumption. “The benefit of automation is as an enabler of further efficiency across the 630 vessels we operate,” said Palle Laursen, head of Maersk Line Ship Management, a unit of cargo-ship giant A.P.

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