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Analysing a new age of autonomous vessels

June 7, 2018 IMORegulation

The International Maritime Organization answers the questions of Government Europa on how the next generation of autonomous vessels can be regulated to ensure safety for all involved.

With a myriad of emergent new technologies on the horizon of the maritime industry, such as autonomous vessels, it is vital that regulations are established to ensure the safety, security and efficiency of a new generation of ships. In May, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) – responsible for regulating international shipping – initiated its work into analysing the safety, security and environmental aspects of Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS). Under this, IMO will look towards how such vessels can be addressed under the instruments of the organisation. The International Maritime Organization answers the questions of Government Europa on how the next generation of vessels can be regulated to ensure safety for all involved.

How could autonomous vessels transform Europe’s maritime activities? What kind of issues could it eradicate?

This is not really a question we can answer, as there are many variables in Europe’s maritime activities which are outside IMO’s sphere. IMO, as the global regulatory body, sets the regulations for safe, secure and efficient shipping and for prevention of pollution by ships.

It is important to remember that when we talk about integrating new technologies in shipping, we need to balance the benefits derived from new and advancing technologies against:

  • Safety and security concerns;
  • The impact on the environment;
  • International trade facilitation;
  • The potential costs to the industry; and
  • Their impact on personnel, both on board and ashore.

At 2017’s meeting of the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC), a plan to conduct a series of scoping exercises on MASS was scheduled. As the first stage of that scoping exercise was conducted in May, what safety implications have been identified as a result?

The scoping exercise at the moment is aimed at looking at the current regulations in relation to maritime autonomous surface ships. What we are looking at now is how the rules already adopted could be applied to a ship in various modes of autonomy. So, we are looking at each regulation and seeing whether it would apply to a ship in an autonomous mode, whether it would not apply at all, or do we need to have a new rule specifically for autonomous ships?

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