Autonomous ship operation now on IMO agenda

Concept design for an unmanned ship from Rolls-Royce Concept design for an unmanned ship from Rolls-Royce

JUNE 16, 2017 — The Danish Maritime Authority reports that the IMO Maritime Safety Committee is to start to establish a new international legal framework for the safe operation of autonomous ships.

Denmark is one of a number of countries taking the initiative to include autonomous shipping on the IMO agenda.

IMO will now start mapping how existing international regulation can be applied to autonomous ships and the rapidly developing related maritime technologies.

"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," says Denmark's Minister for Industry, Business and Financial Affairs Brian Mikkelsen. "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 proposal to include autonomous ships on the IMO agenda has been submitted by Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, South Korea, United Kingdom and the U.S. It gave rise to a prolonged debate, which showed that many safety and legal issues still remain to be solved as regards autonomous shipping. Despite some concern, it was generally agreed that the IMO needs to start its work now. There was also general agreement that IMO must take into consideration how these developments will affect the seafarers.

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