Research in Transportation Business & Management
Unmanned autonomous ships are seen as a key element of a competitive and sustainable European shipping industry in future. But even if the technology to further automate ships will principally be available at some point, this does not imply that autonomous vessels are also the superior choice for the ship owner. In the end the success of autonomous vessels depends on their impact on the profitability of shipping companies. Following a structured approach this paper analyzes the costs of running an autonomous bulker and compares them against a conventional vessel in a cost-benefit analysis. Hereby it provides insights on the (economic) benefit of autonomous vessels for a first-time. Results principally confirm an economic potential. The expected present value of cost of owning and operating the autonomous bulker over a 25-year period is mUSD 4.3 lower than for a conventionally manned ship. Assuming identical cargo carrying capacity this means that the required freight rate of the autonomous bulker which produces a zero net present value is 3.4% lower than the required freight rate of the conventional vessel. This advantageousness is based on one aspect in particular as the paper argues. Besides cost savings associated with reducing crew levels an autonomous ship brings along additional benefits due to changes in ship design.