Re-thinking the role of the seafarer

This from Marex a few days ago:
Of course this is about worldwide shipping and not necessarily applicable to the US reality, but maybe you have an opinion to share?

I think the problem we have is the people we now employ at sea are there to secure a future for their families. Most are paying big bucks for their children’s education and none want their children to go to sea.
Indian officers have their sights set on a desk job ashore as soon as possible. Pilipinos, Ukrainians and crew from the Pacific Islands see their children’s education as vital.
If we think that automation is going to solve this then we should take note of Michael Polanyi’s Paradox; “we know more than we can tell”.
In other words until we can dissect and transform everything a human being can do into machine language we are not going to succeed.
Now go and program that robot to dribble a basketball.

1 Like

The tech industry vastly overestimates its ability to automate vessels. Anyone who has worked on a vessel or in a management office knows that the technology isnt close to existing.

But I can see shipbrokers becoming extinct soon, and technology changing how we fuel vessels (probably switch to batteries in our lifetimes).

Vessel crews are really cheap compared to automation. On a 20,000 TEU containership, what is the cost of crew per container carried? Maybe less than $5 ? The cost of crew per container is trivial.

The cost of US longshoremen per container is about $100 per move? And usually involves several moves? The cost of local trucking has got to average more than $200. Ship crew costs are the wrong place to look for cost savings.


Oh there is Sooo much wrong with this article I don’t know where to start.

And Anyone who has worked aboard a late generation fully dynamically positioned vessel outfitted with the best systems… or has toured a fully automated container terminal might disagree with you.

Personally I don’t think it’s a good idea. And I don’t think it’s plausible under our current standards for safety and environmental protection. But it is technically feasible today and regulators seem keen on lowering standards lately.

Pray enlighten us, where do you see the wrongs.
This is an article about shipping in general and may not have any relevance in a purely US context.

Most of my seatime is overseas on internationaly flagged vessels with multinational crew… ao that’s not it.

I’d pull it apart point by point but marex seems to prohibit copy and paste.

The first ridiculous statement was about young mariners being fluent in both english and JavaScript. I am pretty good in both languages and just spent thursday with a few dozen cadets… and I’ve yet to meet anyone else who knows shipping and java and is fluent in english. And Java is a dying language so why woild anyone learn it?

Then the next paragraph contains a statement on fully verses sailors being needed to fully utilizing the operational potential.

Anytime someone starts laying on words lkke “fully versed” and “operational proficiency” it make me barf a little in the mouth.

From statements about the suprise shipowners have about the ancillary benefits of i ternet beyond morale to a 2025 prediction on the throughput of vsat that is based on nothing but multiplying two whole numbers… I could go on and on.

The author does not have a solid handle on the subject.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not a luddditte and tend to agree with you mire than others on the forum when it comes to the future of technology but this specific article is rubbish.

If you want a good source of articles on this subject (especially vsat throughput and the proficiency of youn mariners) then check out

1 Like

The problem I think is that anyone with all the skills listed is never going to get their feet wet and are more likely to be working in any one of the major cities around the world that control shipping finance, legal and chartering.
I’m no Luddite either having spanned career where the only navigation instrument required kerosene and a properly trimmed wick to read to a DP3 vessel with the latest equipment available.
The Pilipino crews employed in international shipping remit more than 6 billion US dollars per year. I can see a few hiccups before they give that away.

As an old guy, I’m no computer wiz, but most of the young guys don’t know much about making computers work either. Sure, they have basic windows, word, and email ability. They learn nautical software more easily, but most don’t really know it. They don’t have the ability to repair computer hardware, software, or network issues. That is rare.

I know quite a few programmers, but I’ve never had one onboard.


I have to fix network issues, update code in software, clone harddrives outside of regular engine repair and maintenience. It seems it will just be more of the same. I have had to acquire more and more knowledge as far tech stuff goes to be able to just survive and stay competitive. I think the captains will be replaced by automation before the engineers j/k


Probably right. And then the engineers with be replaced by ETO’s. And then come the robots.

1 Like

No the Engineer will be placed in a glass box with “In case of Emergency, Break Glass” written on it.
(Actually an old cartoon seen on a lot of ships, but can’t find it now)

“I keep my head down, do a good job with the lettuce and then it’s on to the fryelator, and that’s when the big bucks start rolling in!”


No the engineers will be forced to take on the role of ETOs. I already have to do an ETOs job as I rarely have one.