IMO has started exploring how safe, secure and environmentally-conscious maritime autonomous surface ship (MASS) operation can be addressed in IMO instruments.
The organization’s senior technical body, the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC), endorsed a framework for a regulatory scoping exercise, as work in progress, including preliminary definitions of MASS and degrees of autonomy, as well as a methodology for conducting the exercise and a plan of work.
For the purposes of the regulatory exercise, MASS has been defined as a ship capable of operating independently of human actors to varying degrees. IMO has outlined the degrees of autonomy as follows, while noting that MASS could operate at one or more degrees over the course of a single voyage:
- Ship with automated processes and decision support: Seafarers are on board to operate and control shipboard systems and functions. Some operations may be automated.
- Remotely controlled ship with seafarers on board: The ship is controlled and operated from another location, but seafarers are on board.
- Remotely controlled ship without seafarers on board: The ship is controlled and operated from another location. There are no seafarers on board.
- Fully autonomous ship: The operating system of the ship is able to make decisions and determine actions by itself.
The scoping exercise will identify current provisions in a list of IMO instruments, and see how they may or may not apply to autonomous ships. The next step will involve undertaking analysis to determine the most effective way of addressing MASS operations.
The committee has also invited interested IMO Member States and international organizations to submit proposals related to the development of interim guidelines for MASS trials to its next session, MSC 100.