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Autonomous ship discussions continue at IMO

The IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee’s (MSC) 100th session has been completed, with progress reported by the committee in the Organization’s regulatory scoping exercise on maritime autonomous surface ships.

{mprestriction ids="1,2"}The ongoing process of assessing IMO instruments to see how they may apply to ships with varying degrees of autonomy continued during the session, which saw the MSC approve the framework and methodology for the regulatory scoping exercise on Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS), following testing of the methodology by a correspondence group.

For each instrument related to maritime safety and security, and for each degree of autonomy, provisions will be identified which: apply to MASS and prevent MASS operations; apply to MASS and do not prevent MASS operations and require no actions; apply to MASS and do not prevent MASS operations but may need to be amended or clarified, and/or may contain gaps; or have no application to MASS operations.

Four degrees of autonomy have been identified for the purpose of the scoping exercise.

Degree one relates to a ship with automated processes and decision support, where seafarers are on board to operate and control shipboard systems and functions. Some operations may be automated and at times be unsupervised, but seafarers are on board and ready to take control.

Degree two covers a remotely controlled ship with seafarers on board, with the ship controlled and operated from another location. Seafarers are available to take control and to operate the shipboard systems and functions if required.

A remotely controlled ship without seafarers on board is Degree three, where the ship is controlled and operated from another location, while Degree four describes a fully autonomous ship with an operating system that is able to make decisions and determine actions by itself.

Following this assessment, MSC will proceed to analysing and determining the most appropriate way of addressing MASS operations, taking into account the human element, as well as technological and operational factors.

This analysis will identify the need for changes or amendments to the legal instruments relating to the operation of ships using these technologies, such as SOLAS, STCW and the COLREGs

The initial review of instruments under the purview of the Maritime Safety Committee will be conducted during the first half of 2019 by a number of volunteering Member States, with the support of interested international organisations.

An intersessional MSC working group is expected to meet in September 2019 to move forward with the process, with the aim of completing the regulatory scoping exercise in 2020.

The MSC also noted provisional principles for the development of guidelines on MASS trials during its 100th session, discussed by a working group. The principles include ensuring that such guidelines should be generic and goal-based, and taking a precautionary approach to ensuring the safe, secure and environmentally sound operation of MASS.

Interested parties were invited to submit proposals to the next session of the Committee, taking into account these principles.{/mprestriction}

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