Autonomous Cargo Ships and New Collision Regulations

July 24, 2022 Maritime Safety News

The possibility now exists for ships to navigate the globe with no one at the helm. This capability has been demonstrated in the United States, Europe and Japan by autonomous workboats, survey vessels, and coastwise voyages by autonomous cargo vessels and ferries with the development of larger vessels capable of making trans-oceanic voyages coming soon. Despite this new reality, aside from a patchwork of voluntary best practices, there are no international standards for the safe design, operation or maintenance of autonomous vessels.

Recognizing this gap, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has recently completed a so-called Regulatory Scoping Exercise (RSE) to begin the process of creating a framework for Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (known as MASS) to enable their safe operation within existing IMO instruments, the most significant being the Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGS).