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Transport ship on the Rhine near Düsseldorf

Photo: Jochen Tack / IMAGO

From Wednesday, inland waterway vessels will be sailing on the Rhine via remote control for the first time on a commercial basis.

The first control center for digital remote control of inland waterway vessels in Germany opens in Duisburg.

In the future, the captains will sit in the control center in an office building at the harbor and use the screen to control inland vessels on the Rhine to Bonn.

For safety reasons, the regular crew will still be on the remote-controlled freighters for the time being, but the crew will be reduced in the future.

The reason for this is not only the desire to save costs, but also a shortage of skilled workers.

Steffen Baur from HGK Shipping confirms this to the “Handelsblatt”.

The subsidiary of the municipal logistics company Häfen und Güterverkehr Köln is one of the operators of the Duisburg tax center.

“The shortage of skippers is already there and will probably increase,” Bauer tells the newspaper.

The shipping company boss worries that a third of inland waterway ship captains are now over 55 years old.

"In the next ten years we will lose them as workers."

In the long term, it is not about controlling the ships entirely from land, says Marc Holstein to the “Rheinische Post”.

He is the German representative of the Antwerp start-up Seafar, which has developed and supplies the technology for remote control of the ships.

“Currently, each ship usually has two skippers and two to three other employees on the trip, who are also paid during port stops,” says Holstein.

In the future, only one skipper will be on board.

When he takes a break or sleeps, the colleague should take over from shore.

“This significantly increases productivity,” says Holstein.

Belgium already has experience with remote-controlled inland waterway vessels.

Two freighters are already operating there completely unmanned, while other ships are operating with remote control and a reduced crew.

The ramp-up in Germany should now be done carefully so that authorities and other parties involved take part.

HGK shipping company boss Bauer says: "We don't want to overwhelm the authorities, ship insurance and certification companies."