Automated Ships

Over the past couple of years, there has been considerable media interest, in Automated Ships, some being favourable, some commentary by uninformed journalists, and information put out by technology companies, hoping to sell their products. Not all of this has yet been thought through or openly discussed by professional seafarers.

Automation is the technique, method or system of operating or controlling a process by highly automatic means, as by electronic devices, reducing human intervention to a minimum.

Some areas are currently beyond the scope of ‘Automation’, such as pattern recognition, language, comprehension and assessment of sound and smell.

Paradoxically, automation is in most cases more efficient especially in repetitive tasks, and reducing the human involvement. However the human element becomes critical at some points, since in an automated system if an error occurs the error will multiply until it is fixed by human intervention or the service is shut down.

In a semi-automated vessel, would you need a combined certificate for navigation and engineering. The French had this back in the 1960s-1970s but it did not really catch on.

In the event of cyber hacking, which is increasing, how does the ‘automated ship’ which relies on SATNAV to progress. It has already happened in the Black Sea when the tanker Atria was ‘spoofed’ the GPS and the AIS data and had to resort to ‘Mark I Eyeball’.

How does an ‘automatic vessel’ interact with non ‘automatic vessels, where one ship is unaware that the other ship is on ‘Automatic’, especially in controlled shipping areas, such as the Dover Straits, off Singapore, Suez and Panama Canal approaches, Torres Straits and the Belt in the Baltic.

How does the ‘Automatic’ vessel cope with small boat fishing fleets, who will have no concept of automation of vessels, and how does it deal with a 12 mile coastal protection zone?

These areas need urgent enquiry and resolution, because China is supposed to have its first unmanned cargo vessel by 2021, and Norway a fully electric semi automated container ship running between 3 Norwegian ports, called the YARA Birkeland, by the end of 2018. Consideration by SOLAS, STCW, & COLREGs have not been made public.

These vessels will need special lights for navigation at night and a day signal as well, “not under command”.

The visibility concern is a more immediate worry, how will it know to reduce speed or stop in poor visibility, and what special fog signals will it need to sound?

The recent fire aboard a Maersk Box Boat shows up a problem, with a fire erupting from a container somewhere in the holds or on deck, perhaps near a coastline or even deep sea, who takes responsibility and who activate some sort of rescue?

It has not yet been stated how the technology companies are going to make their systems fail safe, you can duplicate the computer equipment, but if the generator/batteries, main engines fail in mid-ocean how does the shore controller recover his asset.


One area never mentioned, are pirates of West Africa, East Africa and the Far East boarding and taking over an Automated ship. Do you send a warship to intervene and from which country?

There has to be changes in the many Government’s thinking and quickly, not taking 60 years to ratify the changes necessary as happen in the Load Line debackle.

These are few of my thought on Automated Ships which should created some discussion from seafarers or ex-seafarers.

Tony Maskell

MV Eminence

I read with interest the article on the Eminence as for 25 years I was one of the crane drivers at the Yelland jetty. I discharged her and her sister ship the Sentence for quite a few years also a few of the Hull Gates boats pictured in your article. Crescent Shipping had the bulk of the shipping there. Over the course of 25 years I discharged hundreds of vessels all shapes and sizes and all different companys. Good times and proper looking vessels.

B. Dearnley

Count Felix Von Luckner

Further to your November issue and the article on Count Felix von Luckner, his raider, the Seeadler was wrecked at Mopelia Atoll, in French Polynesia and in an 18ft longboat, he and five others set sail for the Cook Islands some 800 miles to the West to try and steal an anchored vessel and then return to retrieve the remainder of his crew. No vessel was found in the Cooks and he further set sail for the Fiji Islands, a further 1400 miles away. He made landfall at Katafaga in the Lau Group, still finding no vessel, he replenished from an unoccupied homestead on the island, leaving 10/- and a receipt signed “Max Pemberton”, a well known English author of that time, for goods taken. He then proceeded to Wakaya, where a Fijian watchman becoming extremely suspicious of this group of “kai vavalagi’s” (Europeans), sent word to Levuka. A inter-island vessel, the Amra was despatched with one armed European officer and four or five unarmed members of the then Native Constabulary. Von Luckner was arrested, he said later that as he was out of uniform, chivalry prevented him from any armed resistance against this motley band, as he had a machine gun, rifles and grenades. If he had done so, he and his companions would have been sent to the gallows. They were taken to Levuka, thence to Suva and eventually to New Zealand where he was imprisoned. He made one successful escape from captivity in N.Z, stole another boat and uniform, was recaptured and finally repatriated to Germany at the end of WW1. Captain William Bligh sailed through the same waters on his epic journey from Tofua to East Timor. The remainder of the crew on Mopelia finally stole a French vessel and escaped to Chile.

Frank Ryan


I have read with interest about the article about Holm Shipping of New Zealand in the February edition.

My thoughts go to that time of the 7th of May 1958 in Lyttleton.The Holmburn was on one side of the quay and we (the Tyrone) were on the other. This incident was mentioned in my article about my voyage on the Tyrone.

Many of our crew were awakened by the incident and a lot of us did our utmost to help put the fire out and rescue the remaining crew, many of whom found shelter on our ship. However we could not get to the Captain or the Chief Steward.

It was a sad day all round.

Mike Hall


The article “Gentlemen Raiders of WW1” in October 2017 featuring the German battle cruiser SMS Emden includes the sinking of the Liverpool collier Trabboch.

My grandfather, Capt. H. M. Miller RNR, was 3rd officer on her and had been onboard for a year. He spent the rest of the war sailing around the East Indies. During the Depression he obtained a shore job with the Hong Kong and Kowloon Wharf company. He was captured on Christmas Day 1941 and interred in a Japanese POW camp on the island. He survived just and lived until he was 80 years old. As a boy I remember him telling me stories of his days at sea. Do you know where I could obtain a photograph of the Trabboch?

T. D. Bennett

Editor’s note: I am afraid I do not have a photo of this vessel in my collection, but can any reader help?


Built For Mexico

While quickly thumbing through the June edition of your excellent publication, a picture on page 44 of the LPG tanker ‘Clerk-Maxwell’ reminded me that a near sister ship, the Mexican ‘Mariano Escobedo’, was built at the same yard and delivered in 1967. This is at variance with the statement on page 12 under ‘Another Win for Island Yard’ that no British built vessel has been built for Mexicans in living memory! I am still alive!!! Keep up the good work.

Richard Whistler


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