Autonomous vessels – a not so remote possibility?

By Helle Hammer, Managing Director Cefor, and Chair of the IUMI Political Forum

On 1 November, the UK’s Automated Ships Ltd and Norway’s Kongsberg Maritime announced a memorandum of understanding to build the world’s first unmanned and fully automated vessel for offshore operations, expected to be in operation in 2018. Unmanned transports are gaining acceptance from industry and governments as research and innovations bring the possibility of unmanned vessels closer to realisation. An unmanned vessel can be both remote controlled or fully automated. Most likely there will be a number of variations and a stepwise progress towards this, in which automated technologies will be used to support decisions and perform certain manoeuvers.

For unmanned vessels to become a reality, the regulatory framework must be in place. Requirements concerning the person in command of a vessel, sufficient manning, training and proper lookout will have to be amended in international conventions (SOLAS, STCW, COLREG). The amendment of IMO conventions is time-consuming, and although the process has barely started, it is likely to gain support and IUMI intends to be a part of these discussions. Consequently, the issue has now been added to the Political Forum’s current list for monitoring as discussions evolve.

In addition to the regulatory and liability aspects, insurers also need to address the risks related to new technologies and the internet of things. Cyber-attacks, connectivity, complex technologies, and autonomy-assisted accidents are among the challenges. Insurers will expect classification societies to become involved in the approval of big data and automated operational procedures in order for these to be insurable in the future.

Helle Hammer, Managing Director Cefor, and Chair of the IUMI Political Forum