The technology behind digital shipping is achievable in the short term but human interaction must not be overlooked, conference speakers counselled yesterday.
The essence of autonomy in maritime is not about the ship, “but the interaction between people and technology,” according to former ship’s engineer Bernard Twomey.
Speaking at a conference focusing on artificial intelligence in maritime, he said the level of technology being fitted into vessels now exceeds any seafarer training.
Delegates heard that while the technical challenges of digital shipping are solvable in the short term, there are significant concerns about regulation, future skills training, liability and cost.
However, the greatest concern is that the more connected ships, terminals and ports become, the more vulnerable they are to attack.
There are several cases on record, including navigation systems being infected by malware when software vendors use infected USB sticks; examples of external manipulation of GPS co-ordinates; and ransomware causing the partial blackout of a cruise ship.
Threat actors, whether working for a nation state or working alone, have become more sophisticated.
“The threat is developing so rapidly that you can never keep up,” warned Kelly Malynn, head of risk management at insurance company Beazley Group.
A combination of increased digitalisation, increased interconnectivity, and an increase in threat actors has pushed cyber attacks into the upper ranking of potential catastrophes.
However, for Phaedra Gibson, head of training, defence and security at BMT Group, an engineering, science and risk management consultancy, it is important to bring a cross-sectoral approach to the management of cyber risk.
In addition to the technology, there must be input from psychological and behavioural expertise, she told the event organised by BAU Global, a network of higher education institutions that recently took a controlling interest in UK-based MLA College in Plymouth.
When it comes to digital technology, “just because we can, doesn’t mean we should”, she added.
Ms Gibson made a strong case for a fresh approach to training in the light of shipping’s digital journey.
“It’s important to understand what I mean by training,” she said, listing organisational change, a competency framework, thought leadership, coaching and mentoring, future skills, pan-sectoral training and, crucially, competency assurance.
She urged a positive attitude to digitalisation, in spite of the many obstacles identified by all speakers and in the face of an international media looking for bad news. “Unless we [the industry] control the narrative, the media will pick up all the negative stories.”
Mr Twomey, who is now with the department of computer science at the University of York, said that “the technology now being put into ships is far more advanced than any seafarer training available. [Nevertheless], artificial intelligence is happening today”.