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08/03/21

Could the increased use of robotic and uncrewed vessels improve the gender balance in shipping?

To mark International Women’s Day, Ocean Infinity’s Chief Vessel Operator Ann Till explores how the advances in robotic technology could play a role in levelling the gender balance in the maritime industry.

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“It’s no secret that we are in an industry where women are under-represented. There are many reasons why this gender imbalance exists but more important to me is how we can help achieve a better balance in the future.

Many seafarers and offshore personnel face a decision about whether to move ashore to facilitate seeing their family grow up; both male and female. For as long as seafarers have gone to sea, decisions have been made as to whether to “hang up the sea boots” to see more of their children or avoid prolonged separation from family members. This is of course a personal decision with no right or wrong answers.

ILO/IMO guidelines on the Medical Examination of Seafarers advise pregnant women to cease work at sea from 24 weeks of pregnancy. Prior to this point there are of course appointments and antenatal checks to attend. Beyond 24 weeks, the MCA requires a new medical certificate to be issued which can include restrictions that limit trips to less than 2 hours duration; effectively preventing a pregnant seafarer from offshore and survey vessel-based roles.

But there’s a new potential alternative on the horizon. With new technologies, we have an opportunity to offer variety to traditional seafaring roles, that remove physical requirements to be offshore and thus removing the need for employees to be away from home for weeks or months at a time.

With remote vessel operation, the physical barriers of work offshore are largely removed and thus allow for a woman to continue operation of a vessel or payload equipment on a vessel much later into pregnancy than for a normal shore-based role, with adaptations (e.g. shift patterns) where required.

Operating vessels from Remote Control Centres means that women based locally to the centres have more options to continue seafaring and performing offshore payload roles rather than necessitate leaving the sector or industry altogether. Remote working could also enable an earlier return to work than would be expected with an on-vessel position.

Remotely operated vessels are being built and operated at an ever increasing rate as technology continues to develop. The continual expansion of the market brings opportunities for new roles in the maritime sphere, especially as such vessels continue to get larger and more complex. The introduction of Dynamically Positioned vessels and wind turbine transfer vessels saw a creation of new opportunities and it is my hope that with the introduction of remotely controlled vessels, we can see similar new opportunities for remote operators, network engineers and other supporting roles not currently existing for traditional crewed vessels. These opportunities of course present themselves for men and women, but with new opportunities comes a chance to improve the gender balance”.

Ann Till, Chief Vessel Operator, Ocean Infinity

With a varied background in the marine industry, Ann started her career working deep-sea before making the transition to short-sea shipping in the offshore sector. After making the jump ashore, she became a Master Mariner marine advisor and vessel inspector based in the Middle East before undertaking various roles in offshore ship management in Europe and Africa.

In Ocean Infinity as Chief Vessel Operator, she is leading the transition to uncrewed vessel operation whilst still maintaining safety, performance and maritime compliance.

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