unmanned autonomous ship

A conceptual illustration of an unmanned autonomous ship. Image courtesy ABS

IMO Working Towards Regulatory Framework for Autonomous Shipping

Mike Schuler
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April 27, 2023

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) continues its work to develop a regulatory framework for autonomous ships in response to rapidly evolving technology. The Joint MSC-LEG-FAL Working Group on Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) held its second session last week at the IMO Headquarters in London. The event was preceded by a seminar discussing legal issues concerning MASS.

The joint working group aims to address high-priority safety, legal, and facilitation issues regarding MASS and to identify any regulatory gaps. Key agreements reached during the meeting included the need for a human master responsible for an autonomous vessel, the possibility of the master not being on board but having the means to intervene when necessary, and that only a single Remote Operations Centre (ROC) should be responsible for an autonomous vessel at any given time.

Further topics to be considered include conditions under which a master may be responsible for multiple autonomous vessels simultaneously and the roles and responsibilities of autonomous vessel crew members. An updated Work Plan was agreed upon, pending approval by the three Committees.

The third session of the Joint MSC-LEG-FAL Working Group on MASS will take place in September, with a seminar on implications, challenges, and opportunities of MASS operations for ports and public authorities before the meeting.

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