October 6, 2015

Ships of the future

HERE’S A FOLLOW-UP to my last column about automated ships. It comes from a ship’s engineer called Ian who apparently (when he’s ashore) lives in Cornwall, England, with his wife Sue:

Hi John,
Don't worry, unmanned automated ships are not going to happen anytime soon — technically we are not far off, but legislatively . . .
What will happen is, (and has been happening for years already), that the number of crew on board will get ever smaller, so a lot of the hazards you mention (poor or absent lookout, reluctance or inability to communicate or assist, etc.) are here already.
Eventually they will be down to three watchkeepers (and a cook, perhaps!) monitoring the ship’s passage, cargo, engine, and vital systems from a control center on the bridge, together with mountains of checklists, form-filling and report-writing — already keeping the skipper’s eyes from the bridge window!
Navigation, weather routing, and bunkering will all be dictated from head office ashore, who will have live access to all data created on board, including video and audio, and be able to take control of vital systems if necessary. All cargo handling will be done by flying squads and maintenance by manufacturers’ and agency service teams put on board as the ship approaches port.
As a ship’s engineer who first went to sea in the seventies, when even a small cargo ship carried around 12-15 officers and 50 deck and engineroom crew, it took a whole trip to find out who was supposed to do what, and the ship was full of characters and traditions. I finished my career on a large car carrier with just five officers and six crew. Until shore-side management decided that we not allowed even a social beer together (total alcohol ban), life on board was still tolerable; I even had my wife travel with me.
Needless to say, the social and cultural life of the crew pictured above will be effectively zero, yet they will need to be intelligent and self-disciplined individuals to work at their allotted station for weeks or even months at a time; whilst knowing that their speech and every action is being monitored 24/7 by some bored office worker. I will not be signing up!
And yet . . . that young engineer remembers a tiny little water leak from a small-bore pipe to a pressure gauge, that ran down the pipe onto a girder, along the girder onto a cable tray, down a cable to a pressure switch, and eventually penetrated the gland on the pressure switch and filled it up with water . . . at which point the main engine stopped and refused to start again because it thought there was no oil pressure!
Find me a robot to spot and fix that one!
Today’s Thought
The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.
— G. B. Shaw, Maxims for Revolutionists

“Any hint of a proposal yet, dear?”
“Yes, Mom, several. But so far he’s just ignoring them.”


Mike K said...

Hi John,

If you can pass me your email address I have a story to send you that you may like.

John Vigor said...

Mike, let's try an experiment. Go to Craigslist, Seattle, and search for Santana sailboat. You'll see an ad for a Schock Santana 22 that is WANTED. Reply to that ad, giving your e-mail address. I know who placed that ad and he will know what to do. I'll e-mail you in turn.


John V.