NYK Claims First Autonomous Ship Test Under New IMO Guidelines

iris leader
File photo of the M/V Iris Leader. Photo courtesy MarineTraffic.com/Martine Janssens

Japanese shipping group NYK is claiming the world’s first trial of an autonomous ship following International Maritime Organization preliminary guidelines for autonomous surface ships.

NYK says the trial was conducting using its 70,826 gross tonne pure car and truck carrier Iris Leader, which is operated by the group.

During the trial, which took place from September 14-20, the ship navigated from Xinsha, China to the port of Nagoya, Japan, followed by the port of Yokohama, Japan, using the the Sherpa System for Real ship (SSR) navigation system, which calculates optimal ship routing based on environmental conditions.

“During the trial, the SSR’s performance in actual sea conditions was monitored as it collected information on environmental conditions around the ship from existing navigational devices, calculated collision risk, automatically determined optimal routes and speeds that were safe and economical, and then automatically navigated the ship,” NYK explained in a statement. “Using data and experience gained through this trial but not obtainable through onshore simulators, NYK was able to ensure the feasibility of the SSR and its benefit for safe and optimal operations.”

Meanwhile, the crew performed typical duties during the navigation, which included parts of Japan’s coastal areas.

NYK says it will analyze the data collected during the voyage and continue to develop the SSR system.

According to NYK, the trial was conducted in accordance with the IMO’s Interim Guidelines for sound Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) operations.

The IMO Maritime Safety Committee in June adopted the first endorsed a framework which included preliminary definitions of MASS and degrees of autonomy, as well as a methodology for conducting exercises and a plan of work. The endorsement was described as the IMO’s first steps to address autonomous ships.

In a statement, NYK said it believes manned autonomous ships could make for safer operations and a reduction in crew workload.

A video from the test is below: