The ETF Political Secretary for Maritime Transport, Philippe Alfonso, was invited to speak with EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc at a reception to mark the end of the 2017 EU Maritime Year. Asked about the future of the maritime sector, Alfonso urged caution about the prospects for rapid automation of shipping. Truly automatic shipping may be further away than many believe, and we must manage any implementation carefully to ensure safety and avoid damaging consequences for workers.
In reply to Commissioner Bulc’s main question, about the opportunities for maritime in 2050, Alfonso stressed that 2050 is a truly distant horizon. Technological change is sure to happen, but it is hard to predict and no one has a crystal ball. What we need is a better understanding of changes when they occur: how fast are they going, what is the social impact and what are the new skills needed? It is clear that a continuous investment in training will be key. Even if it is inevitable, automation should be human-centered to ensure safe operation of new systems and maritime safety, with high quality employment and training for maritime professionals.
Commissioner Bulc followed up with a question on reskilling seafarers to enable them to transition from sea- to shore-based jobs. Here Alonso replied that we will still need seafarers and their seafaring expertise for a long time! Jobs ashore will not replace seafarers overnight, because automated ships are not synonymous with unmanned ships. Moreover, we will indeed need seafaring experience for various jobs ashore.