Unmanned systems possess tremendous potential for risk mitigation in the maritime sector in terms of shipping safety.
Several companies are now developing drones for applications like sea-based search and rescue operations, and identification and warning swimmers for sharks. But drones are also finding some interesting commercial applications. For instance, this year saw successful and complete drone assistance in the ocean rescue of two swimmers in rough seas in Australia.
Among the numerous avenues that drones are being found useful by marine surveyors to physically examine ships and cargo and also loss adjusters who employ drones to assess damage to vessels. Allianz for example, has already used drones to assess marine claims, as well as property claims in the aftermath of last year’s hurricanes and wildfires.
Drones are also being used for damage assessment of assets like oil rigs, pipelines and offshore turbines, thereby reducing the risk involved in conducting human inspections. In the North Sea, fishing vessels carry drones for survey work and environmental monitoring.
Drones are poised to take on many such roles in the maritime sector in the years to come, some of which could help prevent losses. “Drones make it simpler and quicker to examine a ship and its cargo, but it is easy to see how the technology could be used to assess environmental pollution damage or observe shipping traffic in congested transit routes,” says Volker Dierks, Head of Marine Hull Underwriting, AGCS Central & Eastern Europe.
Drones are instrumental in carrying out inspections of cargo tanks and holds, which is a high risk task for the crew. Dangerous gases are known to cause fatalities at sea, where enclosed cargo holds many noxious gases. Drones can also be employed to carry out inspections of high rise structures to assess the structural integrity of a vessel or to monitor the loading of cargo.
“In the future we will see drones used to avoid hazards at sea. For example, they could be used by ships sailing in Arctic and Baltic waters to identify ice and show the route ahead,” says Dierks. “If a vessel is grounded or suffers a collision – such as striking a reef – the crew could use a drone to assess the condition of the hull and the surroundings. This could allow for faster and more informed decision-making and reduce the impact of an incident,” Dierks added. “If a captain has access to a drone on board it could help limit or prevent a loss – it could be used to assess possible buckling on a vessel that has sailed through heavy weather, for example,” he further elaborated.
Drones will also have an important role in spotting and avoiding hazards at sea. EU NAVFOR’s anti- piracy naval mission has deployed drones to monitor the coast of Somalia and search for pirate activity. In case of an incident, drones could also be used to assess damage, helping to mitigate losses, avoid loss of life or limit any potential environmental impact.