Soren Skou, the CEO of Maersk, the Danish business conglomerate that focuses on the transport, logistics and energy sectors, doesn't believe that self-sailing container vessels will become operational within his lifetime.
Maersk is the largest container ship and supply vessel operator, with around 88,000 employees across 130 countries. The company has already reduced the number of people it has working on its vessels as a result of developments in automation, but Skou believes that the workforce has now hit a floor and that there's no more room to remove people from working on the ship boxes.
"Even if technology advances, I don't expect we will be allowed to sail around with 400-meter long container ships, weighing 200,000 tonnes without any human beings onboard," he told Bloomberg.
"I don't think it will be a driver of efficiency, not in my time," he added.
Both regulation and lack of a return on investment are therefore an inhibitor for this kind of sophisticated automation in Skou's opinion. But Maersk must have carefully considered this option as it has spent a lot of time improving its global container fleet and innovating in the field.
Last month, it formed a joint venture with IBM to develop the use of blockchain technology to manage and track cross-border trade, and it has also developed a self-sailing tug boat in its towage unit.
While ships have grown bigger, efficiency and automation have allowed Maersk to restrict crew sizes - now the company needs less than half as many sailors to transport a container as it did two decades ago. But Skou is adamant that fully automated vessels are not part of the company's strategy.
Interestingly, Rolls Royce's marine unit, which is considered a leader in developing self-sailing technologies, remains unprofitable. This is even after a restructuring which saw the unit cut 4,200 jobs. The company was put up for sale last month.
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