IMO outlines autonomous ship trial guidelines


A working group will amend regulations to facilitate unmanned ship operations while MSC has produced interim guidelines for MASS trials

IMO is developing regulations covering maritime autonomous surface ships (MASS) for trials and daily operations.

Its Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) approved interim guidelines for unmanned ship trials and set up a working group to identify which relevant treaties and provisions apply to or prevent MASS operations,.

IMO secretary general Kitack Lim said MSC "made significant progress with the regulatory scoping exercise for the use of MASS with the approval of interim guidelines and preparations for the intersessional MASS working group".

IMO's work will continue in September this year when a group of experts will examine existing regulations. They will report their findings at the next MSC meeting in May 2020, when regulation changes could be initiated.

Regulations are needed as the shipping industry begins designing, building, testing and operating autonomous ships for regional and worldwide trade.

The intersessional working group, meeting 2-6 September, will identify legislation and treaties needing amendments or clarification to enable lawful MASS operations. It will review comments submitted by interested parties during this session.

The working group will identify gaps in existing regulations, highlight rules with no application to MASS operations and those that are applicable, but require no actions.

Once this is completed, it will analyse treaties and determine the most appropriate way of addressing MASS operations, accounting for the human element in shipping, existing and new technology, and operational factors.

Analysis is expected to identify the need for equivalences in IMO instruments and developing interpretations that apply to unmanned shipping. Analysis will recognise required amendments to existing instruments and where new instruments need to be developed.

This working group will advise MSC 102, in May 2020, of the changes required to IMO regulations and how to proceed with further analysis. This should lead to further work in 2020 to begin amending existing regulations and develop new rules and IMO instruments, building on the work of MSC 102.

MASS trials

In June this year, MSC 101 progressed with the scoping exercise to look at how the safe, secure and environmentally sound operation of autonomous ships could be introduced in IMO instruments.

It created interim guidelines for MASS trials, explaining that demonstrations should be "conducted in a manner that provides at least the same degree of safety, security and protection of the environment as provided by the relevant instruments".

MSC 101 requested those conducting trials identify risks associated with the trials and the measures introduced to reduce the risks to as low as reasonably practicable and acceptable.

This includes ensuring onboard and remote operators of unmanned ships are appropriately qualified for these operations. All personnel involved in MASS trials, whether remote or on board, should be appropriately qualified and experienced to safely conduct MASS trials.

Cyber security

IMO guidelines also request appropriate steps are taken to ensure sufficient cyber risk management of the systems and infrastructure used when conducting MASS trials.

During MSC 101, the committee endorsed the third version of Industry Guidelines on Cyber Security on Board Ships that raise the understanding and awareness of cyber risk management, with information on the response to, and recovery from, cyber incidents.

This document includes information for ship operators and owners on how to comply with resolution MSC.428(98) for incorporating maritime cyber risk management in safety management systems.

While the committee identified inconsistencies in implementing this resolution, it encouraged administrations to include cyber risks in safety management systems. But, it decided a separate cyber security management system from that of the safety management system was not necessary.

MSC 101 digitalisation achievements

Other amendments and approvals by MSC 101 included:

  • Guidance for navigation and communication equipment intended for use on ships operating in polar waters.
  • Interim guidelines on lifesaving appliances and arrangements for ships operating in polar waters.
  • Draft resolution urging IMO member states to implement safety measures of the Polar Code on ships not certified under the SOLAS Convention, to be submitted to the IMO Assembly in Q4 2019 for adoption.
  • Revision to principles and guidelines relating to the review and audit of the performance of data centres and data exchanged for the long-range identification and tracking of ships.
  • IMO's position on maritime radiocommunication matters for submission to the International Telecommunication Union World Radiocommunication Conference 2019, to be held in November 2019.
  • Amendments to guidelines on annual testing of voyage data recorders, clarifying the examination of float-free capsules.
  • Procedure for submitting documents containing proposals for establishing, or amending, ships' routeing systems or ship reporting systems.
  • Adopted new traffic separation schemes, associated routeing measures and recommended directions of traffic flow in the Sunda and Lombok Straits, Indonesia, to minimise the risk of grounding or ship collision.
  • Adopted amendments to the recommendations on navigation through the English Channel and the Dover Strait.

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