The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has begun work to identify the safety, security and environmental aspects of Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS ) operations in line with the existing IMO standards.

Under the work, IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee (MSC ) has endorsed a framework to develop a regulatory scoping exercise, featuring preliminary definitions of MASS and degrees of autonomy, as well as a methodology for the exercise and a work plan.

In order to support the development of the regulatory scoping exercise, MSC has placed the degrees of autonomy in four categories, one of which include the ships with automated processes and decision support, where seafarers are on-board to operate and control shipboard systems and functions.

This type of operation may include some automated operations.

The second category will include a remotely controlled ship with seafarers on-board. In this category, the ship is controlled and operated from another location.

The third category will cover a remotely controlled ship without seafarers on-board, while the fourth will comprise a fully autonomous ship, where its operating system can make its own decisions.

“An analysis will be conducted to determine the most appropriate way of addressing MASS operations.”

IMO said in a statement: “As a first step, the scoping exercise will identify current provisions in an agreed list of IMO instruments and assess how they may or may not be applicable to ships with varying degrees of autonomy and/or whether they may preclude MASS operations.

“As a second step, an analysis will be conducted to determine the most appropriate way of addressing MASS operations, taking into account, inter alia, the human element, technology and operational factors.”

The MSC has also set up a correspondence group on MASS to test the framework of the regulatory scoping.

MSC has also invited its member states and the global entities to submit proposals related to the development of interim guidelines for MASS trials.