RR Autonomous ship

IMO MSC Identifies 4 Degrees of Ship Automation

RR Autonomous ship

The IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee approved the framework and methodology for the regulatory scoping exercise on Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) during its 100th session held on December 3-7, 2018.

A MASS has been defined as a ship which, to a varying degree, can operate independently of human interaction.

The UN maritime body has been pressured into investigating the impact of the rise of the vessel automation and its potential impact on the seafarers and the environment, especially when it comes to safety and security.

The IMO has launched activities to set in place the regulatory regime for the sector, however, there are numerous factors to be defined. Nevertheless, the maritime regulatory body needs to hurry up in order to keep up with the developments in the industry already taking place.

Namely, projects have already been launched to make the smart ship concept a reality.

One of the examples is the construction of the world’s first electric and autonomous containership, Yara Birkeland, which is expected to start autonomous operation in 2019. What is more, companies like ABB, Wartsila and Rolls-Royce have demonstrated their pilot projects featuring remotely piloted vessels.

As a result, the committee has identified four degrees of autonomy for the purpose of the scoping exercise:

  • Degree one: Ship with automated processes and decision support: Seafarers are on board to operate and control shipboard systems and functions. Some operations may be automated and at times be unsupervised but with seafarers on board ready to take control.
  • Degree two: Remotely controlled ship with seafarers on board: The ship is controlled and operated from another location. Seafarers are available on board to take control and to operate the shipboard systems and functions.
  • Degree three: Remotely controlled ship without seafarers on board: The ship is controlled and operated from another location. There are no seafarers on board.
  • Degree four: Fully autonomous ship: The operating system of the ship is able to make decisions and determine actions by itself.

The committee said that 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; or
  • apply to MASS and do not prevent MASS operations and require no actions; or
  • 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.

The list of instruments to be covered in the MSC’s scoping exercise include those covering safety, collision regulations, loading and stability, training of seafarers and fishers, search and rescue, tonnage measurement, safe containers, and special trade passenger ship instruments.

Once the first step is completed, a second step will be conducted to analyse and determine the most appropriate way of addressing MASS operations, taking into account, inter alia, human element, technology and operational factors. The analysis will identify the need for:

  • Equivalences as provided for by the instruments or developing interpretations; and/or
  • Amending existing instruments; and/or
  • Developing new instruments; or
  • None of the above as a result of the analysis.

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 IMO member states, with the support of interested international organizations.

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 committee has also approved revised guidelines on fatigue and further updates on work on goal-based standards, polar shipping and safety issues relating to low-sulphur fuel.

Image Courtesy: Rolls-Royce