Why it’s time the shipping industry fully embraces AI

The fallout of the Ever Given blockage in the Suez Canal and the backlog of deliveries highlighting the need to rapidly change the approach towards navigation and collision avoidance

June 7, 2021

3 Min Read

Over the last few years, AI has become ingrained in so many industries, with the pandemic triggering even further adoption in sectors that were previously averse to the technology.


The shipping industry falls into this category, with the fallout of the Ever Given blockage in the Suez Canal and the backlog of deliveries highlighting the need to rapidly change the approach towards navigation and collision avoidance.

Unlike the automotive industry which has fully embraced AI in recent years and is constantly innovating, the shipping industry has failed to recognise the long term benefits that development in technologies can offer them. 90% of maritime collisions occur in congested waterways, and this is due to the fact there has been a 1500% increase in container carrying capacity in the last 50 years. Not only do these collisions cause casualties, but they also have a monumental impact on the environment, particularly those which cause huge oil spills.

These incidents can be reduced by using onboard navigation sensors and high resolution cameras with proprietary AI algorithms, such as Orca AI,  which allow crew to make more informed decisions at a moment’s notice and monitor their surroundings, noticing and resolving problems or risks as it arises.

We have already seen some steps taken to embrace AI, with the Mayflower 400, the first fully autonomous ship due to set sail across the Atlantic later this month. This shows how far technology, and the industry itself, has come. This is a very special case, and not the sign of things to come in the next few years. Indeed, there is still a long way to go until we reach fully autonomous, ocean-going ships being the norm.

This voyage should be seen as a flagship moment in the history of the shipping industry, and a chance to really change the way we view AI and autonomy.

What needs to be expedited, however, is the process of introducing and developing AI to augment the experience of every captain and crew and make their lives easier and the nature of their jobs safer. In low visibility, extreme weather or in very congested waterways AI can stop avoidable collisions, saving lives, the environment and aid insurance in the process.

Captains, co-captains and navigational officers on board have an extremely difficult and complex job. They have to balance their time between constantly watching over navigational instruments and looking outside, calculating every situation in their heads constantly for vast periods of time.  No matter how experienced or talented they are, it’s an extremely difficult series of tasks to achieve without any errors.

With AI, this is made far easier no matter how difficult the conditions and visibility are. Thermal imaging cameras and AI powered visual support systems provide instant feedback, helping them analyse situations and provide them with all the data they need to give them a full understanding of what they need to do at any given moment in time.

The pandemic has forced every business and industry to adapt in different ways, and it is vital that we continue to push forward and modernise as the world returns to normality. Shipping is an industry that has always been averse to pushing the boundaries and modernising, and that has to change.

Replacing entire crews with autonomous vessels is still somewhat science fiction, and it is not the goal of companies providing AI solutions to navigation. Instead, they are looking to make an extremely difficult job easier using the power of artificial intelligence.

AI powered navigational systems on board ships are saving lives, and that should be a better reason than any for the industry to release its inhibitions and fully embrace this technology.

Yarden Gross is CEO and co-founder of Orca AI, which provides an intelligent technological solution for collision avoidance in maritime transport

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