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Use Case

Short Sea


Short sea (coastal) shipping is important to north-west Europe, and to the Netherlands in particular. Both regional transportation of goods in Europe and the redistribution of cargo from large ocean liners is performed by short sea ships. Many short sea ships are built at Dutch shipyards, and various large ship-owning companies own and operate large fleets of these vessels and operate them within European waters and beyond.

Vision for 2030

In 2030, short sea ships are increasingly equipped with partially autonomous functionality (autonomous navigation during part of the voyage, e.g. outside VTS or restricted areas), autonomous platform monitoring and control and automated communications with the outside world to cover a range of standard situations, thus making safe operations with a smaller crew possible. 


This is important because short sea shipping has increased by 30% compared to 2020, and is set to continue its growth for the foreseeable future. More ships are competing for less space, with an increasing number of offshore windfarms restricting room for navigation on the already busy North Sea. 


Meanwhile, the number of qualified seafarers is not growing fast enough to keep up with demand. BIMCO expects a worldwide shortage of almost 20% of ship officers by 2025, and this shortage will have increased further by 2030. This long-term trend has accelerated after the COVID-19 pandemic severely restricted the possibilities for crew repatriation and reduced the “appetite” for a seagoing career. Smaller crews on busier waters call for additional safety measures. A number of high-profile incidents has put more focus on maritime safety and there is a growing focus on shipping safety, to prevent any highly-polluting incidents caused by, for example, navigational error. 


In 2030, the first generation of partially autonomous ships is operating with a reduced crew which has responsibility for the operation and is supported by shore control centres, who have a comprehensive awareness of the situation on board. Sailing with an unmanned bridge is technically and legally possible outside VTS/restricted areas. Crew is on standby to resume control in the event of anomalies. 

Key Challenges

The implementation of smart short sea ships with autonomous navigation relies on international co-operation, even more than inland shipping and the ferry services sector. The timeframe for implementing new IMO legislation is such that the development and testing of functional requirements, not just for navigation systems but also for shore control, pilot and port interaction and communication, needs to start soon if these are to be incorporated into proposals for functional and technical standards. 


It will require extensive experimentation to validate such regulatory proposals, which may be proposed from the Netherlands but will require extensive international co-operation and dialogue before being accepted for ships on international voyages.  


This requires a sense of urgency with all involved parties, which is now often lacking because many ship-owners and shipyards currently have more pressing problems than crew shortages and navigational restrictions, which may only take priority five to 10 years from now. 

Knowledge Base

Want to know more about Short Sea Shipping? Go to our knowledge base.

2021 2024 2030
1Skills & Industry Acceptance
Awareness of crew-shortage
Availability of IT-integrators in maritime sector
New skills requirements for seafarers
New STCW standards
Training the seafarers
2Liability & Insurance
Innovating in a risk-averse industry
Risk and liability distribution
Risk and liability contract models
3Implementation & Market Uptake
Finding early adopters
Finance for smart ships
Repair/refit shipyards with knowledge of smart ship technology
4Waterways, Locks & Bridges
Functional requirements for interaction with smart ships
In-port connectivity and coverage
Digitalisation of port infrastructure
IMO Scoping exercise
Objective safety requirements
Legislative proposals to IMO
System certification
IMO guidelines/regulations in force
7Navigation & Guidance
Functional requirements of navigation systems
Journey and route planning systems
Situational awareness through sensors and data integration
Collision detection and avoidance systems
8Ship Internal Systems
Functional requirements for integration of shipping systems
9Communication & Security
Functional requirements of communication systems
Ship position information systems
Ship-ship and ship-shore communication protocols
Connectivity for smart shipping on the North Sea
10Remote & Shore Control
Functional requirements for Shore Control Centres (SCC)
Connectivity for SCC operation
Startup operations for SCCs