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Marine Electronics & Communications

Marine Electronics & Communications

How safe are your autonomous ships?

Wed 12 Jul 2017 by Martyn Wingrove

How safe are your autonomous ships?

IMO will be studying the safety, security and environmental risks of remote controlled and unmanned ships, explains editor Martyn Wingrove

How safe are your autonomous vessels? Do they have collision avoidance, emergency braking, global satellite coverage, automatic maintenance and fault diagnostics?

I wonder if these will be some of the questions class societies, port and flag states will be asking in the middle of the next decade after the first crewless ships have completed their maiden voyages.

There is more drive by regulators to ensure that autonomous or remote control ships are safe. IMOís Maritime Safety Committee made the decision to begin an exercise of studying the safety and security of autonomous ships in June.

As everything happens at IMO it will take years to complete these studies and discussions, but the end result should be amendments to all IMO instruments that will cover unmanned vessels.

IMOís arm was driven into this because of the rapid movement in autonomous ship technology and because owners are likely to be testing remote control ships from next year.

Already this year we have seen the first remote controlled tug tested by Svitzer in Denmark.

IMO sees the scoping exercise as a starting point of a much greater level of study that will cover an extensive range of issues, including the human element, safety, security, interactions with ports, pilotage, responses to incidents and protection of the marine environment.

The exercise should identify regulations that may need to be amended to ensure that the construction and operation of autonomous vessels are carried out safely, securely, and in an environmentally sound manner.

The work is likely to begin in 2018 and continue through to 2025 with regular updates at IMO meetings during that time. So donít hold your breath for a quick response, there will be a lengthy period of study and discussion.

But there is hope that IMO will be ready for the time when the industry wants to order remote controlled ships. So be prepared to answer plenty of safety questions if you do get around to operating one.

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