Photo: YouTube/日本財団

Japanese shipping giant planning to start autonomous cargo ships by 2025

By SoraNews24

It seems that kids these days just aren’t that interested in a life on the high seas anymore. Combined with the generally declining population, it’s a big problem for the shipping industry in Japan.

So the largest company of this kind, NYK Line, has embarked on a project to begin converting their huge fleet of roughly 800 ships to autonomous vehicles. Working with a team of 30 major companies such as telecom giant NTT, the necessary equipment has already been developed and is expected to be put into practical use by 2025.

Experienced sailors will still be needed to plot safe and efficient routes for the ships to take, and the craft will all have a manual override in the event of an emergency. However, a full crew, which has become increasingly hard to gather, will no longer be necessary.

Readers of the news, however, wondered how these ships would be protected against the ongoing problem of piracy.

“They should lay booby-traps all over the place.”

“Wouldn’t it be safer to avoid pirates by making flying drones instead?”

“They are uploading the Luffy protocol now.”

“Waves are really powerful and hard to predict. I wonder if a machine can really handle them.”

“Put one of those Boston Dynamics killbots on board to patrol.”

“Ghost ships?!”

“It looks like it’s open season for pirates.”

“Do trucks next.”

Also, as police in Japan have been experiencing with automobile thefts recently, cybersecurity will become a crucial aspect of protecting unmanned cargo ships once they hit the oceans.

Perhaps they will learn more about how to implement it all after a trial run which will use this new system in the field for the first time. That’s scheduled to take place in February 2022, and during this experiment a container ship will run from Tokyo Bay to Ise Bay, over 300 kilometers away.


Security concerns aside, this will be a necessary step to adapt to the changing human resources landscape in Japan.

Source: NHK,

Read more stories from SoraNews24.

-- New self-driving buses testing across Japan let you pay with your face

-- Japanese government proposes cyborgs and robotic avatars for all by 2050

-- Japanese police struggling with growing number of “CAN invaders” used to steal luxury cars

© SoraNews24

©2023 GPlusMedia Inc.

Login to comment

Actually, those will be manned autonomous ships (with a small crew on board), if you examine the details closer.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

I think the AI can work better than crew in most circumstances but when a master has an agony of the moment scenario, I don't see how AI can deal with it. The situation involves thousands of random choices based on circumstances that change by the second. Impossible to program such a thing.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I'm a bit confused about how this is going to do anything to solve an alleged labor shortage among sailors in Japan like the article frames it. Cargo ships aren't like trucks where you've just got one driver to replace, most of the crew do stuff other than steering the ship so even if you've got a ship that can "drive" itself you still need the crew doing all the stuff they do.

Also, at least with international shipping the crews of most Japanese owned ships aren't Japanese anymore anyway, they overwhelmingly come from countries like the Philippines and Indonesia.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Why not? If they now can handle the Suez and not all magically disappear in North Korea, give the technology a little try. lol

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Fully automated, no, not at all. its a desaster just waiting to happen.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Imagine one of these ships having its electronics malfunction due to a massive EMP from the Sun, and no one on board capable of making a decision. Good luck with that.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

What could go wrong?

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Good luck.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Imagine one of these ships having its electronics malfunction due to a massive EMP from the Sun, and no one on board capable of making a decision. Good luck with that.

Read some maritime blogs like gCaptain or Maritime Executive. Ships run aground, into docks, into each other, experience large fires, and capsize at a brisk clip with humans controlling them. Every week there are mishaps at sea or in port. The videos of big box ships losing control while docking, which usually results in one or more of those big container gantries toppling over, sometimes like a row of dominos, are great to watch while eating lunch. I can't see it being a whole lot worse than the current situation.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Another advertisement for human operated ships.

2 ( +2 / -0 )


2 ( +2 / -0 )

I expect we will see more of this insanity over the next few years as companies spend millions on unreliable tech, robots and androids rather than employing migrant labourers, who are happy to do the job for less, so they can send money home to feed their families.

This movement of cash from the developed world to the developing world keeps people alive. Even so, around 9m people die of hunger every year - that's more people annually than all recorded Covid deaths in the pandemic. Migrant labour spreads the cash a little more fairly. Without it, more people will starve.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Artificial Intelligence is on the way, and we won't be able to stop it. But, I foresee a few hiccups along the way.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Cargo ships seem like the most likely candidate for automation (or semi-automation as there is still a human in the loop here). Long and predictable routes with oversight only sporadically needed.

As for pirates, it actually makes it easier to ignore them. Most ships surrender to protect the crew so if there aren't any a ship can just plough on. The pirates might up their game by damaging the hull with RPGs though

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Unmanned ships are already out there on the seas. The technology is not so complicated. And these kinds of dull jobs like spending weeks navigating through the water at 15 kts are perfect for autonomous tech.

Security is a real concern. But that can be easily solved with a small (manned) security force on each ship.

By the way... I don"t know why the article thought it was a good idea to include a bunch of moronic comments.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The technology is not so complicated. And these kinds of dull jobs like spending weeks navigating through the water at 15 kts are perfect for autonomous tech.

The problems with automation on ships are passage through places like the Straits of Malacca, Singapore Straits and other crowded seaways where avoiding other ships is a major consideration. Likewise navigating the northern Indian Ocean requires awareness of countless small fishing boats. Entering and leaving port is another likely place where automation will struggle. Those not familiar with the problems harbor pilots face boarding and disembarking from ships are probably not aware how hard it is to make a personnel transfer from a small craft to a large ship. There is a steady drumbeat of harbor pilots who are injured or even die trying to board ships or disembark from them using a rope ladder to the bobbing deck of the pilot boat.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

A Disaster waiting to happen.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites