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IMO takes first steps to autonomous ships

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has confirmed that it has begun work to examine how the operation of autonomous ships could be addressed within IMO instruments.

{mprestriction ids="1,2"}The IMO’s senior technical body, the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC), has endorsed a framework for a regulatory scoping exercise, including preliminary definitions of Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (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, a Maritime Autonomous Surface Ship is defined as a ship which can operate independently of human interaction, with different specified degrees of autonomy.

These degrees of autonomy include ships with automated processes and decision support, with seafarers on board to operate and control shipboard systems and functions, as well as remotely controlled ships with seafarers on board.

Higher degrees of autonomy include remotely controlled ships without seafarers on board, and then fully autonomous ships able to make decisions and determine actions by themselves.

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 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 in the future, taking into account the human element, technology and operational factors.

The MSC has now established a correspondence group on MASS to test the framework of the agreed regulatory scoping exercise. Member States and international organisations have also been invited to submit proposals related to the development of interim guidelines for MASS trials to MSC’s next session, MSC 100.{/mprestriction}

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