Autonomous ships: IMO completes regulatory framework
As the marine industry continues to develop and test the technologies necessary for the safe operation of autonomous vessels, many regulatory questions remain.
To help answer some of these questions, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) recently completed a regulatory scoping exercise to analyze relevant ship safety treaties, in order to assess how Maritime Autonomous Surface Vessels (MASS) could be regulated.
The scoping exercise was launched in 2017 to determine how safe, secure and environmentally friendly MASS operations could be addressed in IMO instruments, and its completion represents a first step, paving the way for discussions targeted to ensure that regulations keep pace with technological developments, says IMO.
The exercise consisted of evaluating a substantial number of IMO treaty instruments falling within the mandate of the MSC and identifying the provisions that applied to MASSs and prevented MASS operations; or applied to MASS and does not prevent MASS operations and does not require any action; or applied to MASS and do not prevent MASS operations but may need to be modified or clarified, and / or may contain gaps; or have no application to MASS operations.
Different degrees of autonomy have been taken into account, including the vessel with a crew with automated processes and decision support (degree one), remotely controlled vessel with seafarers on board (degree two), remotely controlled vessel without sailors on board (degree three) and fully autonomous vessel (degree Four).
Safety treaties assessed include the SOLAS Convention and various codes made mandatory under SOLAS (Casualty Investigation, Enhanced Survey Program (ESP), Fire Safety Systems (FSS), Fire Test Procedures (FTP), Bulk Chemical (IBC), Gas Carrier (IGC), Solid Bulk Cargoes (IMSBC), Dangerous Goods (IMDG), Transport of Used Nuclear Fuel (INF), Intact Stability, International Security Management (ISM), Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) , cereals, polar, recognized organizations (RO)); collision regulations (COLREG); Convention on Load Lines and Protocol of 1988; Safe Containers Convention (CSC); STCW Convention and Code, as well as STCW-F Convention; search and rescue (SAR Convention 1979); tonnage measurement (Tonnage 1969) and the Code of Good Practice for Cargo Securement and Securement (CSS Code) and the Code for the Implementation of IMO Instruments (Code III).
The result of the regulatory framework exercise was discussed and completed by the MASS working group which met during MSC 103, in May 2021.
For each provision, the exercise made it possible to determine whether the MASS could potentially be regulated by: equivalences as provided for by the instruments or the development of interpretations; and / or modify existing instruments; and / or develop a new instrument; or none of the above as a result of the analysis.
The result highlights a number of high priority issues, cutting across multiple instruments, which should be addressed at the political level to determine future work, IMO said.
These involve the development of MASS terminology and definitions, including an internationally accepted definition of MASS and clarification of the meaning of the term “captain”, “crew” or “responsible person”, particularly at degrees three ( remotely operated vessel) and four (fully autonomous vessel).
Other key issues include the handling of the functional and operational requirements of the remote control station / center and the possible designation of a remote operator as a seafarer.
Other gaps and potential common themes identified in several safety treaties related to provisions containing manual operations and alarms on the bridge; arrangements for staff actions (such as firefighting, cargo stowage and stowage and maintenance); Eve; implications for search and rescue; and the information required to be on board for safe operation.
The Committee noted that the best way to approach MASS within the IMO regulatory framework could preferably be holistically through the development of a goal-oriented MASS instrument. Such an instrument could take the form of a “MASS code”, with objectives, functional requirements and corresponding regulations, adapted to the four degrees of autonomy and responding to the different gaps and themes identified by the CSR.
The Committee invited Member States to submit proposals on how best to achieve a future session of the MSC.
The outcome of the MSC regulatory scoping exercise, as approved by the Committee, including the full treaty analysis, can be found as an annex to the MSC 103 report (MSC 103/21 / Add.1, annex 8) and can also be found in MSC.1 / Circ.1639 (Result of the regulatory scoping exercise for the use of autonomous maritime surface vessels (MASS)).
The IMO Legal and Facilitation Committees are also in the process of conducting regulatory scoping exercises on the conventions under their jurisdiction.