Key drivers, trends and industry dynamics

The owners, operators and managers of today’s maritime fleets find themselves confronted by a range of pressing challenges.

Overcapacity is leading to growing pressure to make savings without sacrificing vessel efficiency, while environmental and safety regulations are becoming increasingly strict. On top of this, the COVID-19 pandemic has added further pressure. Some of the key challenges facing the maritime industry are summarised below.

Crew challenges

Aging populations and changing career aspirations may lead to a reduction in available human resources and according to a BIMCO manpower report, there may be a shortage of workers in the maritime industry in the near future. However, a more pressing concern among many is finding enough qualified seafarers, especially officers, with the necessary skills to operate vessels at the high levels of efficiency desired today.

Distribution of accident events for 2011–2018

Distribution of ships involved by main category


In general, shipping has a relatively poor safety record. According to the Shell Zero Incident report (LISW 2019), the safety record for the maritime industry is approximately 20 times worse than the average onshore worker and about five times worse than the construction industry. Within the maritime industry, the worst-performing segments were general cargo ships and passenger ships. The cargo ship figures could be a result of the ever-increasing size of vessels, meaning more blind spots, though the passenger vessel figures may be a reflection of better transparency in reporting in that segment. In 2018, there were a total of 3174 casualties and incidents, with 25 ships lost and 3515 ships involved (EMSA 2019).

Key figures for 2011–2018

25 614 Ships involved
2304 Ships lost
23 073 Casualties and incidents
665 Very serious casualties
7 694 Persons injured
696 Fatalities
1377 Investigations launched

Cyber security worries

With vessels increasingly using systems that rely on digitalisation, integration and automation, marine cyber security risk management is a growing and justified concern.

There is also a regulatory aspect to this. As the IMO has recognised that cyber security is becoming critical for data protection and reliable and safe marine operations, from January 2021, it requires that cyber security be addressed in safety management systems. In 2017, the IMO adopted resolution MSC.428(98) on Maritime Cyber Risk Management in Safety Management Systems (SMS). Any digital systems should have a robust cyber security framework based on best practices and guidelines to ensure the security of operations.

Human error

Mistakes made by humans are the source of most incidents in the maritime industry. According to Allianz Global Corporate & Speciality, 75 % of shipping insurance losses, equivalent to USD 1.6 billion, are caused by human error. There are many reasons for human error, including poor visibility, inclement weather, fatigue resulting from long hours and insufficient rest, the nature of the working environment onboard vessels and poor leadership both onboard and ashore. This is increasingly relevant as more decision-making capability moves onshore, a trend supported by the digitalisation of the maritime industry and the improved connectivity of vessels. 75 % of shipping insurance losses are caused by human error, equivalent to $ 1.6 BN SAFETY AND SHIPPING REVIEW 2018 IN NUMBERS 90 % of global trade transported by shipping 1129 total losses over past 10 years 94 total losses in 2017, second lowest total in a

Safety and shipping review 2018 in numbers

90% Of global trade transported by shipping
1129 Total losses over past 10 years
94 Vessels with ECDIS, including charts and publications
53 Simulators in maritime schools around the world
21 Losses due to bad weather
180 piracy attacks in 2017, lowest total for 22 years
61 losses caused by foundering in 2017
6 vessels lost to fire in 2017

Major risks

Busy seas
Safety standards
Political risk
Fire-fighting capability
Cargo misdeclaration
Salvage challenges
Ports of refuge


In 2018 the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) imposed a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the global shipping fleet by at least 50 % by 2050 compared to 2008 levels, with the aim of achieving full decarbonisation by the end of the century. Along the route to the 2050 requirements there are also some challenging legislative milestones. By 2030, emissions—primarily CO₂—from new and existing ships must be cut by 40 % on average compared to 2008 levels. To meet and comply with this legislation is an immediate concern and requires a step change in the design and operation of next-generation vessels. In response the IMO target, the Poseiden Principles and Sea Cargo Charter are initiatives launched by a group of leading financial and leasing institutions that make acquiring finance/refinance and cargo dependent on a vessel’s environmental performance.

In addition to global programmes, there are also regional initiatives such as in the EU, with its target to move more freight transport from roads to rail and inland waterways.

Autonomous operations are often touted in industry publications as a way of solving or helping to deal with many of these challenges, but what does it mean in practice? In the next section we look at Wärtsilä Voyage’s definition of autonomous operations in more detail.

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