Shipping Policy

Certain segments of the industry, as well as certain aspects of a ship’s operation, are more suitable for digital disruption than others. Autonomous shipping, remote control of ships and even the roll-out of unmanned vessels could eventually find application in short sea and coastal shipping. On the other hand, the introduction and operation of unmanned vessels serving deep sea shipping will continue to pose major challenges for the foreseeable future.

The development of ships with the above-mentioned characteristics is a very complex issue with social, safety, security (including cyber security) and environmental implications, as well as considerations related to interactions with ports and pilotage services, accident response, liability issues, and seafarers’ skills and training, all of which cannot be fully fathomed at this point in time.

Besides the technological challenges that will need to be overcome, it is also important to consider the legal ramifications of the use of autonomous and unmanned vessels. The legal framework in which shipping operates has been gradually developed and fine-tuned over the centuries. The introduction of unmanned vessels would require an extensive and comprehensive review of global, regional and national legislation.

Efforts are already underway. In June 2017, the IMO initiated a scoping exercise in order to determine how the safe, secure and environmentally sound operation of Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) can be incorporated in – and what effects it may have on – existing IMO Conventions and regulatory instruments. This exercise is vital to give the shipping industry clarity on the applicable regulatory framework and liability regimes as, according to existing international shipping rules, all vessels are required to have a crew.

Thorough impact assessments followed by an extensive review of the IMO regulatory framework are needed before the roll-out and uptake of Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships.