January 23, 2014

The Shipping Report: Sea blindness – automated

Price Tags hasn’t posted much on shipping, even though Vancouver is one of the most important seaports on the continent, if not the planet.

Rose George, in this recent TED Talk, thinks we suffer ‘sea blindness’ – how we depend so much on this crucial industry (90 percent of world trade) and yet we know so little and pay so little attention.

She wants us to recognize the importance of and problems with the shipping industry:

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After hitching a ride on a Maersk mid-sized container ship, she wondered: “Where are all the people?”  There were only 21 (exhausted) crew members for this 7,000-box, trans-oceanic ship in almost constant motion.  And soon there may be less.

From Quartz, on “The Next Revolution in Cargo“:

… the British engineering group Rolls Royce wants unmanned, remote-controlled ships to transport freight and goods across the seas.

“The idea of a remote-controlled ship is not new, it has been around for decades but the difference is the technology now exists,” Rolls Royce’s head of marine innovation Oskar Levander, told the FT in an interview (paywall). ”It is happening in other industries so it is only logical that it should happen in marine.”
The consequences can be deadly, as described in this survey of the shipping container by Craig Martin in The Atlantic:
In December 2001, thirteen Kurds were ushered into a supposedly sealed shipping container at the Port of Zeebrugge in Belgium by a smuggling gang. … But nine of the thirteen Kurds would die from suffocation en route.
Upon arrival at Waterford, the container met an automated unloading system on the dockside. Though the occupants’ cried for help, the machine couldn’t hear them. From there, the container in which the group was stowed was scheduled to be loaded onto a lorry, but once more the wrong container was loaded. It was only on December 8, some five days later, that the group was eventually discovered by the lorry driver conveying the crate to its next destination. Imagine the sound of human hands banging desperately at your truck from the inside.
More on the automation of port operations here in the PT Netherlands series.
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