Nine countries - Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States - recently raised the issue of regulating autonomous shipping with the IMO, the DMA said in a June 16 statement.
“It gave rise to a prolonged debate, which showed that many safety and legal issues still remain to be solved as regards autonomous shipping,” the association said. “Despite some concern, it was generally agreed that the IMO needs to start its work now.”
There was also general agreement that the IMO must take into consideration how these developments will affect seafarers, according to the DMA.
“We, on the Danish part, want international regulation to be abreast of technological developments, not least so that the new technology can contribute to enhancing safety at sea,” said Brian Mikkelsen, Denmark’s minister for industry, business and financial affairs. “It is important that also public authorities focus on encouraging innovation and development in shipping and especially initiatives that will promote digitalization and automation.”
The Danish Maritime Authority itself is already nearing finalization of a study of maritime regulations that might be affected by autonomous ship technology.
Autonomous and remote-controlled cargo vessels are expected to enter the market no later than 2020, according to the Advanced Autonomous Waterborne Applications Initiative, a project designed to bring together universities, ship designers, equipment manufacturers and classification societies to research the technology and regulatory issues surrounding remote and self-driving ships.
The AAWA has already created a simulated autonomous ship control system that allows the behavior of the complete communication system to be explored.
“We will see a remote-controlled ship in commercial use by the end of the decade,” Rolls-Royce Vice President of Marine Innovation Oskar Levander said at the Autonomous Ship Technology Symposium 2016 in Amsterdam. “This is happening. It’s not if, it’s when.”
In late May, Mitsui O.S.K. Lines and Mitsui Engineering & Shipbuild Co. announced they would jointly develop a technological concept for autonomous ocean transport system via a grant through the Japanese government.
Also in May, maritime technology company Kongsberg entered an agreement with Norwegian fertilizer manufacturer Yara International ASA to build an electrically powered autonomous cargo ship that could carry about 100 TEUs.
Yara said it expects to begin operating the $12 million vessel semi-autonomously in late 2018, but that after having a small crew onboard for a number of months, the containership would become fully autonomous in 2019 or 2020.