Will Autonomous Ships Soon Be a Reality?


More than seventy people attended London Branch’s two-day event in Bristol, entitled ‘Autonomous ships; what does the future hold?’, where a wide range of speakers from class, regulatory authorities, developers and operators outlined what might be in prospect for the industry.

In his keynote address, James Fanshawe, chair of the UK’s Maritime Autonomous Systems (MAS) regulatory working group, said: “Automated ships are here today, already, in all sorts of shapes and sizes, used for science, for research, for defence and in the oil and gas industry, among other things. The MAS is determined that they should be brought in sensitively and recognising the concerns of all involved.”

As vessel sizes increase, they will have to be integrated into a well-established maritime world with many complexities in place. 

Over two days of high-level presentations and animated discussion, some of the most important points to come out included autonomous ships already being a reality for both subsea and surface work, as well as insurance is a key driver for moving towards autonomous vessels.

Existing conventions and regulations will need to be updated to take the existence of autonomous vessels into account, including Colregs, SOLAS and national regulations.

While autonomous merchant vessels are unlikely to be a reality for many years yet, onboard systems are increasingly becoming automated, which demands a new set of skills and aptitudes from seafarers.

Fact File: The Nautical Institute is an international representative body for maritime professionals involved in the control of sea-going ships. We provide a wide range of services to enhance the professional standing and knowledge of members who are drawn from all sectors of the maritime world.

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