Britain's maritime industry is "on the verge of a technological revolution", with autonomous and semi-autonomous shipping set to make its debut.
That's according to transport secretary Chris Grayling.
Revealing his plans to bring faster, cheaper and more environmentally friendly shipping to the UK and surrounding shores, Grayling joined representatives from across the maritime industry today for a 'smart shipping' conference.
In a bid to discuss advances in the industry at the event, he outlined a vision for the UK to be at the forefront of a maritime technology revolution that will result in the use of more autonomous vessels.
"Autonomous shipping is just one aspect of a maritime technology revolution which has the potential to radically transform the industry, making it safer, cleaner and faster than ever," the secretary said.
"We are already working with the International Maritime Organisation to pave the way for this new era of shipping and we want to work closely with the industry to ensure we are doing everything possible to allow this new technology to thrive."
Other examples of developments in this industry, which Grayling mentioned, include augmented reality, which could be used to train new maritime cadets and familiarise them with vessels before they have even left the shore, he said.
It is also hoped that the advances could improve safety on the sea using artificial intelligence, which could apparently "plot more efficient routes, avoid severe weather, highlight disruption at ports and diagnose mechanical problems a rise in the number of electric and hybrid vessels".
This, Grayling said, could cut down on the level of carbon emissions in the industry, along with the development of low or zero emission fuels, and magnetic berthing, making the mooring process safer and more efficient.
The transport secretary's comments come after the addition of the first semi-autonomous vessel to the UK Ship Register at the end of last year, marking the start of the potential revolution he forecasts.
The potential advances tie in with the ambition set out in the government's Industrial Strategy to put the UK at the forefront of what is expected to be the industries of the future.
Speaking two weeks ago, Maersk CEO Soren Skou suggested that autonomous shipping technology would save little, if any, money because modern container ships already employ a minimal crew, especially when compared to the sheer volume of goods they are shipping.
"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 said.
"I don't think it will be a driver of efficiency, not in my time," he added.
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