IMO takes autonomous ships on board

Jun 01 2018


The IMO has started work on how safe, secure and environmentally sound maritime autonomous surface ships (MASS) operations may be addressed the organisations instruments.

The Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) recently endorsed a framework for a regulatory scoping exercise, as work in progress, including preliminary definitions of MASS and degrees of autonomy, as well as a methodology for conducting the exercise and a work plan.

For the purpose of the regulatory scoping exercise, MASS is defined as a ship which, to a varying degree, can operate independently of human interaction.

To facilitate its progress, the degrees of autonomy were organised (non-hierarchically) as follows - it was noted that MASS could be operating at one or more degrees of autonomy for the duration of a single voyage:

•             Ship with automated processes and decision support: Seafarers are on board to operate and control shipboard systems and functions. Some operations may be automated.

•             Remotely controlled ship with seafarers on board: The ship is controlled and operated from another location, but seafarers are on board.

•             Remotely controlled ship without seafarers on board: The ship is controlled and operated from another location. There are no seafarers on board.

•             Fully autonomous ship: The operating system of the ship is able to make decisions and determine actions by itself.

The first step involves a correspondence group, which will identify current provisions in an agreed list of IMO instruments and assess how they may or may not be applicable to ships with varying degrees of autonomy and/or whether they may preclude MASS operations.

A second step will include an analysis conducted to determine the most appropriate way of addressing MASS operations, taking into account, inter alia, the human element, technology and operational factors.

IMO’s MSC, which met for its 99th session (16th-25th May), established the MASS correspondence group to test the framework of the regulatory scoping exercise agreed and, in particular, the methodology, and will report back to MSC100 (3rd-7th December, 2018).  

The group will test the methodology by conducting an initial assessment of SOLAS regulation III/17-1 (recovery of persons from the water), which requires all ships to have ship-specific plans and procedures for recovery of persons from the water; SOLAS regulation V/19.2 (carriage requirements for carriage of shipborne navigational equipment and systems); and Load Lines regulation 10 (information to be supplied to the Master).

If time allows, it will also consider SOLAS regulations II-1/3-4 (emergency towing arrangements and procedures) and V/22 (navigation bridge visibility).

The committee also asked for proposals from member states and international organisations relating to the development of interim guidelines for MASS trials to be ready for MSC100.

The list of instruments to be covered in the MSC’s exercise includes safety (SOLAS); collision regulations (COLREG); loading and stability (Load Lines); training of seafarers and fishers (STCW, STCW-F); search and rescue (SAR); tonnage measurement (Tonnage Convention); and special trade passenger ship instruments (SPACE STP, STP).

Speaking at the opening of MSC99, IMO secretary general, Kitack Lim, highlighted the importance of remaining flexible to accommodate new technologies, and so improve shipping’s efficiency, “while at the same time keeping in mind the role of the human element and the need to maintain safe navigation, further reducing the number of marine casualties and incidents.”

 



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