By 2030, highly automated sailing (smart shipping) will be normalised in inland shipping. That seems to be a necessity, because the current pool of skippers and personnel (2021) will largely retire by 2030, while the influx of new sailing personnel and skipper-entrepreneurs is lagging behind. The Dutch labour market for skippers, sailors and other sailing personnel will be 25% smaller in 2030 compared to 2021. But automation in inland shipping has ensured that more cargo can be transported in 2030, despite fewer people being employed in the inland shipping sector. The investment in new software and sensors for inland vessels is economically profitable as operational personnel costs are reduced.
Automated inland vessels use artificial intelligence and various sensors on board for large parts of the journey, supplemented with data from waterway authorities and data from other ships. On-board software is able to read the waterway, warn the operators, anticipate changes and resolve traffic situations involving other ships. Most ships have intelligent warning systems that support the crew in sailing smoothly and safely. Part of the inland shipping fleet can sail semi-autonomously, supported by the crew on board or from a shore control centre. Fully autonomous inland vessels (stage 4, no crew on board, no crew in a shore control centre) are not expected in large numbers by 2030.
Inland vessels are allowed to sail with fewer crew thanks to the increased automation on board. Requirements have been set for shore control centres from which remote-controlled operation is possible. The government checks whether these are set up safely.
The social need to transport cargo flows via inland vessels to the greatest extent possible has increased in 2030, with more attention also being paid to city logistics via water as a sustainable alternative in city centres. Container shipping has increased significantly, and more small inland vessels have also been added to navigate the capillaries of the waterway network with fewer crew. Tanker transport of petroleum products has decreased slightly.
Making the existing inland shipping fleet more sustainable has developed hand-in-hand with smart automation, which means that smart shipping is not only used on new-build vessels. Because the route and loading of inland vessels via data platforms has become more transparent, the sector can better anticipate with respect to the effects of climate change.