IMO to set up taskforce on autonomous ships


IMO secretary-general Kitack Lim

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is setting up a taskforce on autonomous ships as it starts to look at regulation and safety of this new development in the industry.

At the IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) meeting this week discussions started on a regulatory scoping exercise for autonomous ships. The exercise is expected to cover a wide range of issues including the human element, safety, security, interactions with ports, pilotage, responses to incidents and protection of the marine environment, for different levels of autonomy.

IMO secretary-general Kitack Lim also announced the formation of an inter-divisional maritime autonomous surface ships taskforce, within the IMO Secretariat, to support the work on the issue.

While there are a number of projects underway around the world to develop autonomous ships the potential use of such vessels internationally faces a regulatory hurdle, which this process now sees the IMO starting to address.

“It is important that we remain flexible to accommodate new technologies, and so improve the efficiency of shipping – while at the same time keeping in mind the role of the human element and the need to maintain safe navigation, further reducing the number of marine casualties and incidents,” Lim said at the opening of the 99th MSC meeting.

Initially autonomous vessels are expected to operate in the coastal waters of individual states where a legal framework has been established for the their operation, such as the autonomous feeder vessel Yara Birkeland set to go into complete autonomous operation in Norwegian waters in 2020.