Owned by US-UK company Ocean Infinity, this 78-meter-long vessel is part of the "Armada," a fleet of 23 robotic ships designed for seabed surveys and underwater infrastructure inspections.

Equipped with cutting-edge technology, including cameras, microphones, radars, GPS, and satellite communications, these vessels boast reduced crew sizes—only 16 people on a ship that would traditionally require 40 or 50 crew members. The efficiency is attributed to a remote operations center in Southampton, where operators use gaming-like controls and touch screens to command the ships from afar.

The benefits of autonomous shipping extend beyond efficiency. With fewer people on board, these ships can be smaller, resulting in reduced fuel consumption and a smaller carbon footprint. While fully replacing crews poses challenges, advancements in autonomy, robotics, and artificial intelligence are rapidly transforming the maritime industry.

Examples of autonomous vessels are already making waves globally. In Norway, an 80-meter electric container ship shuttles between a fertilizer plant and a local port, while ferries navigate autonomously in Belgium and Japan. China also sees the operation of large autonomous container ships along its coastal cities.

Innovative companies like Sea-Kit International are pushing the boundaries further, designing and building crewless boats for various tasks. These vessels offer solutions for dangerous missions, such as mapping underwater volcanoes or inspecting sunken wrecks. The control centers for these boats can be located hundreds of miles away from the actual vessels.

Questions arise about the impact of autonomous shipping on jobs, security against cyber threats and piracy, reliability, and the potential for new job opportunities. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is addressing these concerns, aiming to establish voluntary codes of best practice by 2028, with the possibility of making them mandatory.

As the industry embraces autonomy, the role of captains—or masters—on larger ships is being reconsidered. The UK government is already taking steps to incorporate remote masters into legislation, anticipating a booming industry and encouraging investment in vessel operations from the country.

World’s first fuel cell-propelled high-speed vessel embraces the new era World’s first fuel cell-propelled high-speed vessel embraces the new era

In the ever-evolving maritime world, Ocean Infinity's Captain Simon Macaulay envisions a future where master mariners remotely command vessels or fleets. While legislative changes are necessary, the industry is building knowledge and safety cases to support this groundbreaking shift. As Captain Macaulay puts it, "We send probes and satellites to the other side of the Solar System, so this can be done."