The Future of Maritime Transportation Until 2050

On 5 November, Dr. Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry, President of the World Maritime University (WMU), delivered the 88th presentation of the annual Andrew Laing prestige lecture organized by the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology (IMarEST). Speaking on the topic of The Future of Maritime Transportation Until 2050, Dr. Doumbia-Henry referenced the WMU research report, Transport 2040: Automation, Technology, Employment - The Future of Work that was commissioned by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF). 

Dr. Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry, President of WMU, delivered by video conferencing the 88th presentation of the the annual Andrew Laing prestige lecture.

Dr. Doumbia-Henry highlighted that automation and technology will significantly affect shipping, making it more interconnected, but also more interlinked with the global supply chain. In 2017, WMU launched a major research programme on Transport 2040 - Automation, Technology, Employment: The  Future of Work. The Transport 2040 Report, released in 2019, forecasts and analyzes trends and developments in four transport sectors: aviation, rail, road and maritime. The report focuses on the trends and implications for the transport workers of today and in the future.

“Ships are the most cost- and emission-effective transport means, and will continue to be of central importance in the next generation of transport networks. Advances in automation and technology provide an opportunity to rethink shipping as a whole. New and advancing technologies have already transformed maritime transportation and will continue to do so at all levels including the way ships are designed, constructed, equipped and operated, and will certainly significantly impact personnel, both onboard and onshore, including the new skill sets that will be required ” said Dr. Doumbia-Henry. 

The extent to which technology is likely to automate part of jobs in the future much depends on the nature of tasks to be undertaken. Ships will be increasingly autonomous, which means reduced crews, and inspections are currently being done by drones both airborne and underwater. At ports, cranes are increasingly automated or remotely controlled, horizontal transport is automatized with AGVs, and yard management and decision-making are computerized. Ports and in particular, container terminals, are being increasingly automated although fully automated terminals remain a rare sight, especially in the developing world. Dr. Doumbia-Henry noted the importance of recognizing there is a digital divide between developing and developed countries. Taking into account this divide, she stated that it is important for developing countries to be supported and have the capacity to adapt to the effects of the introduction of more automation and technology in transport.

Dr. Doumbia-Henry emphasized that as the nature of work evolves, massive training will be needed and it is critical to identify future competencies needed to effectively work in a world of advanced automation and technology in transport as well as implementing them in education and training curricula. She said, “It is clear that if we take a laissez-faire approach, technology will exacerbate many of the current problems regarding the world of work, such as reduced job opportunities, skill mismatch, or rising inequality. WMU, together with the International Transport Workers’ Federation, is taking a proactive approach by engaging in timely research on the future of work. The WMU Future of Work research programme can inform policy, prepare workers, and capacity future maritime leaders, such as our WMU students, to make better decisions for a better future as we include these elements in our MSc programmes’ curricula.” She noted that the second phase of the research funded by the ITF is underway and over the next two years will investigate technology and its effect on new skills, new jobs, and new career opportunities. 

Dr. Doumbia-Henry also addressed the impact that the COVID-19 outbreak will certainly have on how transport develops over the next decades. She noted that the World Trade Organization projects that rebounding will take several years even in the most optimistic scenario. She said, “Automation, digitalization, and other new technologies are here, and COVID-19 has been accelerating their use. Managing the digital transition is critical for shipping to be safe, efficient, and sustainable while ensuring that no country is left behind. The Future of Work and of our societies depend on how we manage this transition.”

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