Unmanned Ships, from Fantasy to Reality

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The design, construction and operation of autonomous ships is an ambitious step in shipping. Although it may take some time to come true, it seems to be closer to reality where traditional and autonomous ships will coexist, reports The Medi Telegraph.

Innovation in Maritime

Digitalization and automation are bringing radical changes in the maritime sector, with significant impact on the business model and the role of the human element, bearing in mind continuous effort for improving safety and efficiency, facilitating maintenance and shore-based support.

Highly automated and increasingly software controlled ships, assist the crew with fully autonomous systems that are capable of handling ships’ operations without any human intervention.

Difficulty in Regulations

Whilst many research projects and prototypes are currently ongoing – several challenges are to be faced in order to develop a clear regulatory framework for such ships, dealing also with their co-existence with conventional manned ships. These aspects are under consideration in international regulatory fora.

In fact after submissions from many Member States (i.e. Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, the Republic of Korea, UK and US) – the IMO Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) in June 2017 agreed to start an exercise with the aim of identifying:

  • IMO regulations that, as currently drafted, preclude unmanned operations;
  • IMO regulations that would have no application for unmanned ships (as they purely relate to the human presence on board); and
  • IMO regulations which do not preclude unmanned operations but need to be amended in order to ensure that they are carried out safely, securely and in an environmentally sound manner.

The completion date for this scoping exercise is 2020 and further discussions are expected to happen at MSC 99 in May 2018.

IACS participation

IACS is committed to participate in the IMO work and considering the inevitable involvement of IACS Members in future autonomous ships’ classification and statutory certification, it has decided to:

  • review all IACS Resolutions currently in force to identify possible aspects that may hinder the development of fully autonomous cargo ships (i.e. self-navigating ships without human influence either by crew or remote control). It favors the choice of cargo ships over passenger ships for a fully autonomous system in the near future;
  • as a pilot project, select a few IACS Resolutions covering traditional classification areas (e.g. hull, machinery, survey) and make the necessary modifications for their application to fully autonomous cargo ships;
  • commit not to introduce new hinders for fully autonomous cargo ships when new IACS Resolutions are drafted in the future.

RINA is actively participating in such a big revolution in shipping, aiming at contributing to the international regulatory work, as well as debate and welcome any comments and suggestions on its work from ship designers, builders and operators.

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Source: The MediTelegraph

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