IMO’s MSC moves forward on autonomous ships and e-navigation standards

The IMO’s latest Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) meeting has concluded, with new interim guidelines for autonomous ship trials approved, as well as guidelines on standardisation of the user interfaces and data exchanged by e-navigation systems.

MSC’s 101st session took place from the 5th to 14th of June, considering a range of issues relating to the safe and efficient navigation of vessels at sea. Among the agenda items was the issue of ensuring safety in Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) trials, with the committee reaching agreement on a set of guidelines to be applied during tests of these technologies.

Among other things, the guidelines note that trials should be conducted in a manner that provides at least the same degree of safety, security and protection of the environment as provided by IMO rules relating to manned vessel operations. Risks associated with the trials should be appropriately identified and measures to reduce the risks, to as low as reasonably practicable and acceptable, should be put in place.

Onboard or remote operators of MASS, or in fact any personnel involved in MASS trials remotely or onboard, should be appropriately qualified, and appropriate steps should be taken to ensure sufficient cyber risk management of the systems and infrastructure used when conducting the tests.

Work is ongoing in considering how IMO rules and regulations may need to be adapted to address the use of autonomous systems at sea, with an intersessional working group to be held in September 2019 to continue this process.

Once all of the relevant IMO instruments affected by this shift in operations are identified IMO will need to determine the most appropriate way of addressing MASS operations, taking into account the human element, technology and operational factors. This may require amendments to existing regulations or for new laws to be introduced, depending on the results of this analysis.

This latest meeting also saw MSC approve a circular on ‘Guidelines for the standardisation of user interface design for navigation equipment’, with the aim of promoting improved standardisation of the user interface and information used by seafarers to monitor, manage and perform navigational tasks.

The guidelines, including icons, explicitly apply to Integrated Navigation Systems (INS), ECDIS and Radar equipment, and may be applied to other electronic navigation equipment, IMO says.

Amendments to the performance standards for the presentation of navigation-related information on shipborne navigational displays were additionally adopted, with an implementation date of 1 January 2024 for shipborne navigational displays on the bridge of a ship (for radar equipment, ECDIS and INS). All other navigational displays on the bridge of a ship should meet the standards by 1 July 2025.

MSC also adopted a resolution on the definition and harmonisation of the format and structure of Maritime Services, including items like vessel traffic services and vessel to shore reporting, in the context of e-navigation.

The purpose of the guidance document approved at the meeting is to ensure that maritime-related information and data exchanged as part of different Maritime Services are implemented internationally in a harmonised, standardised and unified format. All Maritime Services should be conformant with the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) S-100 framework standard, IMO says, which specifies methods for data modelling and development of product specifications.