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Sea Machines Brings Mariners' Union Aboard for Autonomous Voyage

AMO deck officers Bridget Quinn and Adam Szloch remotely command the NELLIE BLY in Denmark from Sea Machines' Boston control room. / Image source: American Maritime Officers
AMO deck officers Bridget Quinn and Adam Szloch remotely command the NELLIE BLY in Denmark from Sea Machines' Boston control room. / Image source: American Maritime Officers

Published Oct 7, 2021 8:21 PM by The Maritime Executive

Sea Machines Robotics has moved to ease labor tensions over autonomous shipping by incorporating a maritime union into a first-of-its-kind autonomous voyage around Denmark.

The Boston-based developer announced it has entered into a labor agreement with the American Maritime Officers (AMO) to jointly undertake the multi-week, 1,000 nautical mile voyage using a remotely commanded tugboat.

“AMO is working to anticipate and prepare for the future of the maritime industry, understanding the implementation of the technology will happen in the not-so-distant future. Failure to prepare for the future means failure to participate in it,” said Captain William Barrere, AMO National Executive Vice President.  

He added that the maritime union is working to set careers for future generations of merchant mariners through the agreement.

AMO, the largest union of U.S. merchant marine officers, wants to ensure that the mariners it represents can continue to have a secure role in an evolving industry as new technology is developed and applied in the maritime industry.

AMO-represented, U.S. Coast Guard-licensed officers are supporting Sea Machines’ autonomous voyage around Denmark in a mission dubbed "The Machine Odyssey," which is designed to prove that the world’s waterways are primed and ready for long-range autonomy. AMO officers will command the Nellie Bly tugboat on her autonomous voyage remotely from Sea Machines’ Boston-based control center.

The officers received training prior to the voyage kick-off and will have the support of Sea Machines’ engineering teams in Boston and Hamburg throughout the estimated three-week program.

Additionally, the Nellie Bly will always carry two onboard safety captains, with occasional guest passengers, and will call on ports along the route to display and demonstrate the technology.

The decision by Sea Machines to incorporate labor unions may help diffuse tensions with the International Longshoremens' Association (ILA), which opposes automation as a threat to jobs. The ILA insists that its members will not service automated vessels operating without crews.

“We envision a future in which autonomous technology can expand the world’s fleets and waterborne transportation systems, make transport over water more versatile and competitive with other modes of transportation, and expand the maritime workforce through growth in the industry, ultimately creating jobs,” said Michael Johnson, Sea Machines’ CEO.