Autonomous ships are good for business, for the environment and improves safety both at sea and on land. Autonomy introduces a new competition area for short-sea shipping and opens a larger market for maritime players – on the expense of polluting, congested and accident-prone truck transportation.
For short sea shipping, the major cost drivers are crew and manual port handling. These costs can be significantly reduced by introducing autonomy:
- Fully autonomous vessels can be built with lower investment cost as there is no need for crew accommodation, crew safety equipment, air condition, sanitary systems or bridge.
- Both fully autonomous and automated vessels offer lower operational cost as crew onboard may be reduced or fully replaced by crew on shore which is supporting several vessels.
Autonomous ships provide significant safety benefits, as 75% of maritime accidents are caused by human error with the leading cause being fatigue and attention deficit.
As there is no crew that needs to go ashore for crew change, fully autonomous vessels can more easily adopt slow speed and save energy/fuel.
Autonomous vessels will primarily be maintained when in port. Hence the vessel is designed with a minimum of rotating parts and her propulsion is likely to be battery driven or driven by gas/fuel cells. This means that autonomous vessels will have zero or low emissions to air and sea.
Seagoing professions are increasingly perceived as unattractive for the young generation. Autonomous vessels allow mariners to control and monitor vessels from ashore and enjoy their social life. There is also a forecasted global shortage of ~150.000 seagoing officers by 2025 (according to ICS and BIMCO Manpower Report 2015).
What can be achieved within our global regulatory framework?
The IMO instruments governing the safety of commercial shipping do not provide any regulations for autonomous operations, but IMO has started a scoping exercise for new regulations.
Meantime, the Maritime Safety Committee, at its 101st session (June 2019) approved “Interim Guidelines for MASS trials”, with the aim of assisting relevant authorities and stakeholders and ensuring that the trials of MASS related systems and infrastructure are conducted safely, securely, and with due regard for protection of the environment.
The term trial means an experiment or series of experiments, conducted over a limited period, in order to evaluate alternative methods of performing specific functions or satisfying regulatory requirements prescribed by various IMO instruments, which would provide at least the same degree of safety, security and protection of the environment as provided by those instruments.
Massterly is currently working with the Norwegian Maritime Authorities to gain approval for operation of unmanned vessels within the Norwegian territorial waters.
The work consists of both documentations, testing and simulations to prove that autonomous and remote control of vessel functions will have a level of safety equivalent or better compared to conventional operations of vessels, with respect to safeguarding life, property and the environment. Testing of the first vessels will also take place in real life with crew onboard and shore-based operation in parallel, and this testing phase will last until we are confident enough to operate unmanned.
Some of the documents we are preparing for specific vessel projects together with our partners (e.g. Kongsberg, Wilhelmsen, DNV GL, University of South-Eastern Norway) are Concept of Operations, Safety Philosophy, Design Philosophy, Maintenance philosophy and HAZID (Hazard Identification).
There are many international regulations that must be considered, and where compliance with the intent of mandatory instruments should be ensured.
For example, considering COLREG (International Convention for Preventing Collisions at Sea), we should ensure a level of safety of navigation that is equivalent or better compared to a conventional vessel (where navigation is performed by navigators on board).
Other examples of applicable IMO conventions to consider are the International Convention for Safety of Life At Sea (SOLAS) and the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watch-keeping for Seafarers (STCW).
The above regulations are all based on navigators on board having a full situational awareness based on own perceptions and situation analysis, supported by the aids prescribed by the regulations. We need to demonstrate how the objectives of the regulation can be met when the navigator's presence on board is replaced by autonomous and remote navigation.
A Shore Control Center is under construction at Massterly’s office in Norway and the plan is that the center will be manned by crew/operators employed by Wilhelmsen Ship Management (WSM) who as a company will hold a valid DOC (Document of Compliance) and a customized SMS (Safety Management System) for operating autonomous vessels from shore. The long experience and deep competence of WSM provides quality assurance for safe operations of the vessels. Coupled with market leading automation technology and cybersecurity measures from Kongsberg we will offer the safest possible operations for the first generation unmanned, commercial vessels.
The Shore Control Center is not only about replacing the onboard crew. The real potential lies in the added value of integrating information from various sources in the logistics value chain and systems onboard the vessel into a sensible front-end. This will result in increased decision support for the operator, lower operating costs and improved life cycle management of the vessel/fleet.
We are confident that we will be able to scale the advantages of autonomous vessels within the Norwegian territorial waters, however for the true potential of autonomy to be unleashed we need IMO regulations to adopt to the new reality of technology. Our hope is that the pioneer work and trials initiated in many countries will give insights that can help shape the future IMO regulations, and accelerate the speed of this work. Meantime, the industry must keep innovating under regulatory uncertainty.
About Massterly: The two major Norwegian companies Wilhelmsen and Kongsberg have joined forces to lead the development of autonomous shipping globally. These two strong and innovative companies each owns 50% of Massterly AS which started operations in September 2018. The main purpose of Massterly is to develop environmentally friendly, safe and cost-efficient logistics, enabling a shift in transportation from congested roads to the sea.