Denmark Calls for IMO Rules for Autonomous Ships

File image courtesy Rolls-Royce

Published Dec 11, 2017 10:17 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Monday, the Danish Maritime Authority published a report recommending changes to IMO regulations in order to facilitate the development of autonomous ships. In particular, the report examines regulations on manning, the definition of a vessel's "master" and the possibility of a "periodically unmanned bridge and electronic lookout."

"The development of autonomous ships is fast-moving and we must be at its forefront. However, part of current regulation is based on traditions dating back to the age of sail. That needs to improve," said minister for industry, business and financial affairs Brian Mikkelsen. "The regulation of autonomous ships shouldn’t be a hindrance to further advances and, therefore, the report published today provides important input.”

Mikkelson said that Denmark is already working hard to stay in the lead on shipping technology, and is "pushing this [autonomous] agenda.” For further progress, he suggested that regulations for autonomous vessels should be standardized internationally.

The report suggests that the regulation of automated but human-controlled ships could be adapted within the traditional COLREGs framework, so long as adequate provision is made for allowing electronic means of maintaining a lookout; making navigational decisions remotely; and defining the qualifications of an off-vessel “crew” that controls the ship from shore. 

For fully autonomous ships, the regulatory questions are more complex. These ships could be called upon to make their own decisions between difficult outcomes in an emergency. DMA's review suggested that the development of fully autonomous vessels will require:

- Technical requirements for recognition and assessment of sea objects and the way that they relate to each other; 
- A definition of the types of decision that would be left to human beings;
- Standardizing pilotage regulations in order to allow pilots to remotely control autonomous vessels at ports around the world;
- Adjusting manning requirements (UNCLOS Art. 94-4b) to allow the vessel to operate without a human master.

The full report is available in Danish by clicking here