Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Maritime Authority Considers Safety Parameters for Autonomous Vessels

Training, Tonnage Levels and Loading All Under the Spotlight
Shipping News Feature
WORLDWIDE – When it comes to persuading the diverse, international authorities concerned with shipping to adopt hard and fast policies nothing ever moves swiftly. Years after the first steps were taken to investigate the use of autonomy in the ocean freight sector, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the UN's regulatory board for the international shipping industry, which only recently managed to adopt measures to cut CO2 emissions, has now started work to look into how safe, secure and environmentally sound Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) operations may be addressed in IMO instruments.

With big industry names such as Rolls Royce taking autonomy at sea very seriously, and the first fully autonomous vessels being prepared for operation on inland waterways, the international registers have already been taking steps to classify such ships, and now the IMO has to ensure things proceed properly.

The organisation’s senior technical body, the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC), 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 plan of work.

For the purpose of the regulatory scoping exercise, ‘Maritime Autonomous Surface Ship (MASS)’ is defined as a ship which, to a varying degree, can operate independently of human interaction. To facilitate the progress of the regulatory scoping exercise, the degrees of autonomy are organised as follows:

  • 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.
As a first step, the scoping exercise 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.

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

The MSC, which was meeting for its 99th session earlier this month, established a correspondence group on MASS to test the framework of the regulatory scoping exercise agreed at the session and, in particular, the methodology, and report back to its next session in December.

The Correspondence 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 (presumably defunct if the vessel is unmanned); 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 list of instruments to be covered in the MSC’s scoping exercise for MASS includes those covering 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).