Whitepaper outlines regulatory framework for autonomous ships

Autonomous maritime ecosystem alliance One Sea has published a new whitepaper which offers a framework for developing and implementing an international regulatory framework for Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS).

The new whitepaper – Autonomous Ships: Terms of Reference for Rule Development – calls for the development of common terms of reference covering autonomous and highly automated ship operations that can be used across the maritime industry. It examines definitions of ship autonomy and levels of automation, and explores how they can be applied progressively to ship operations.

“The IMO Conventions which provide the safe operating framework for the entire shipping industry have been developed over many years and amendments to accommodate autonomous ship operations demand painstaking work,” says Capt Eero Lehtovaara, Chairman of One Sea, in the foreword.

“Experts in digital technologies and seafarer welfare groups suggest that shipping should therefore establish not only priorities but a series of waypoints on its voyage towards autonomy, to support efficient and safe ship operation in the near-term.”

The paper presents a scale for determining automation in shipping, describing six ’levels’ which can be applied to various ship operations or an entire ship. It also suggests that levels of autonomy should be defined on a scale based on the need for human attention/attendance rather than mixing the definition with manning levels on board a ship.

“Currently, there is no common language for MASS, and terms or technology types are used interchangeably, when they have very different meanings in reality. For example, remote control and monitoring should not be confused with automation, as remote operations can be performed on ships of various levels of automation. Also, the term autonomy should only be used for the highest level of automation,” said One Sea Senior Ecosystem Lead, Päivi Haikkola.

“The development of international regulations for MASS is the top priority for One Sea, and discrepancies in terminology being used is one of the main obstacles that must be overcome. The purpose of the whitepaper is to provide clarity and assist rule development and standard definitions which can be easily applied across the industry going forward. Regulations cannot be successfully developed if different definitions and interpretations of how to categorise levels of automation persist.”

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Rob O'Dwyer

Rob is Chief Network Officer and one of the founders of Smart Maritime Network. He also serves as Chairman of the Smart Maritime Council. Rob has worked in the maritime technology sector since 2005, managing editorial for a range of leading publications in the transport and logistics sector. Get in touch by email by clicking here, or on LinkedIn by clicking here.

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