Maritime Safety Committee agreed to include marine autonomous surface ships on its agenda

As another indicator of the speed at which maritime autonomy is gathering pace, the June Maritime Safety Committee of the IMO agreed to include the issue of marine autonomous surface ships on its agenda. This will be in the form of a scoping exercise to determine how the safe, secure and environmentally sound operation of Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) may be introduced in IMO instruments.

The MSC recognized that IMO should take a proactive and leading role, given the rapid technological developments relating to the introduction of commercially operated ships in autonomous/unmanned mode. The scoping exercise is seen as a starting point and is expected to touch on an extensive range of issues, including the human element, safety, security, interactions with ports, pilotage, responses to incidents and protection of the marine environment.

The scoping exercise could include identifying: IMO regulations which, as currently drafted, preclude autonomous/unmanned operations; IMO regulations that would have no application to autonomous/unmanned operations (as they relate purely to a human presence on board); and IMO regulations which do not preclude unmanned operations but may need to be amended in order to ensure that the construction and operation of MASS are carried out safely, securely, and in an environmentally sound manner. The scoping exercise should address different levels of automation, including semi autonomous and unmanned ships and could include discussion of a definition of what is meant by an “autonomous ship”. The MSC also agreed that proper consideration should be given to legal aspects, including where the responsibility would lie in case of an accident involving a MASS.

By Jake Frith


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