The day when a ship may leave a port in New York without a crew member aboard is out there, although the exact date is still up in the air. According to IEEE Spectrum, designers are currently working on the technology to make unmanned cargo ships a reality, and trial runs have even been held. Proponents believe the safety benefits of a ship controlled by robotic and remote means could eliminate the thousands of mariner deaths each year.
While experts are seeking ways to make ships safer by eliminating the need for onboard crew members, companies are reducing the number of people manning the vessels without waiting for the technology to take up the slack. Marine Insight reports that this technique is one of the primary factors leading to crew member mistakes. Job duties relating to ship operations are shared among fewer and fewer workers, resulting in long and irregular hours. Often, the tasks are strenuous and physically taxing.
Crew members who suffer the physical and mental strain of overwork on cargo ships may engage in a number of negligent behaviors that put themselves and everyone on board at risk of serious or fatal injuries. For example, they may make careless mistakes or take shortcuts to try to finish one duty more quickly and move on to the next. They may develop anger and motivation issues over the frustration of trying to do more than they are physically able, and blame their co-workers for mistakes. The strain often also leads to substance or alcohol use while at sea.