At the end of London International shipping week, the transport secretary Chris Grayling set out his thoughts on the future of UK shipping.
His speech focused on the changes in transport, and how the maritime industry is not only contributing to that change, but are increasingly leading it.
His first point concerned new technology and the advances in maritime autonomy. Today, 90% of accidents at sea are caused by human error, and so there could be a huge safety benefit to keeping away from the risky routes. Drones that are being increasingly deployed in other areas could also be used over our seas, inspecting ships and further improving safety.
This increase in efficiency could make maritime even more competitive against road freight, which in turn offers big environmental benefits. Grayling also points out that this would obviously lead to concern over the effect of automation on jobs, and that these concerns quite rightly should be taken seriously. However, he continues by saying that there is also evidence that rather than destroying jobs, automation creates wealth, and that wealth creates opportunity, and opportunity means new jobs. So, the seafarer of today might be the unmanned vessel operator of tomorrow – supervising several ships from a control station on-shore. He or she might help design intelligent software, or contribute to new naval architecture.
These type of new roles require different skills, and that is why it makes sense to invest in training. This week maritime industries have been called on to double to amount of people taken on as apprentices, and this will improve the capability of the work force. The government has also written to heads of maritime businesses and training colleges asking what more can be done to increase the number of women working in the industry. In the UK, too, of our 14,000 certified officers, only 3% are women. Only 4% of our technical officers are women. Of our engine officers, only 1% are women. The industry is missing out on 50% of the talent, and the potential progress that could be made.
Brexit and the EU was also a pertinent point. Grayling believes that both the EU and the UK will work better as friendly neighbours than as part of a strained union. For instance, in less than 2 years, for the first time in more than 4 decades, the UK will begin to enjoy an independent trade policy. Our departure from the EU will allow us to build those closer trading ties with countries around the world. Trading with our neighbours in the EU is important, but trading with other countries such as the USA, Australia, China, India, Mexico, South Korea, India and Brazil will enable us to expand our trade, receiving the worlds goods, and exporting our own. That is why the government announced that it wants to draw up plans for the maritime industry stretching up until 2050.
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