Are autonomous 50,000 TEU ships the future for shipping?

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Consultants McKinsey reckons there is radical change on the way in the liner shipping market including giant autonomous ships and drone-like floating containers.

In 50 years time there could be autonomous 50,000 TEU ships, which are bigger than any ships we have today, that could travel alongside drone-like floating containers. The volume of container trade will be two to five times what it is today, according to McKinsey.

The company also predicts that short-haul intraregional traffic will increase as converging global incomes, automation, and robotics disperse manufacturing footprints. Container flows within the Far East will remain huge, and the second-most significant trade lane may link the region to Africa, with a stopover in South Asia.

As well as this McKinsey forecasts:

  • After multiple value-destroying overcapacity and consolidation cycles, three or four major container-shipping companies might emerge: digitally enabled independents with a strong customer orientation and innovative commercial practices, or small subsidiaries of tech giants blending the digital and the physical. Freight forwarding as a stand-alone business will be virtually extinct, since digital interactions will reduce the need for intermediaries. All winners, closely connected through data ecosystems, will have fully digitized customer interactions and operating systems.
  • A fully autonomous transport chain will extend from loading, stowage, and sailing to unloading directly onto autonomous trains and trucks, with last-mile deliveries by drones.
  • Some customers prepared to pay a premium will want container-logistics providers fully integrated into their supply chains. Others will continue to demand the cheapest sea freight. Both will expect transparency and reliability to be the norm, not the exception.
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