Marsh issued a study presenting the overall performance of P&I Clubs for year 2019, paying attention to the future of automation.

Accordingly, Ben Dillon, P&I Specialist highlighted that autonomous vessels is a hot topic in the industry, similar to the blockchain, which both one day will fully directly or indirectly affect the sector.

Yara Bikerland is a great example for the future of autonomous vessels, which is planned to be launched in early 2020, with the Shipowners Club publishing its Maritime Autonomous Vessel Liability Insurance policy this year, it could be argued that the Autonomous Age is dawning.

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The Nautilus Institute published a diagram – as seen below – which reports that the commonplace use of autonomous vessels in international shipping trade is about 20 years from now.

One great challenge around the automation is the change to the current regulatory framework, given that International Group Clubs require their members to follow to ensure their vessels remain in a seaworthy condition and remain within cover.

The process to amend the current regulatory framework began in 2018, when the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) started a two-year scoping exercise to identify the extent to which they may need to amend the regulatory framework to enable the safe operation of automated vessels.

Moreover, additional regulations that rely on the human element onboard vessels will also be a barrier. Specifically:

  • The ISM Code requiring shipowners to “ensure that each ship is manned with qualified, certificated and medically fit seafarers”.
  • SOLAS Chapter V Regulation 5, stating that all ships must be “sufficiently and efficiently manned”.
  • The United Nations Law of the Sea Convention, Article 94, requiring that each ship must be in the charge of a master ‘who possess appropriate qualifications, in particular in seamanship, navigation, communications and marine engineering’.

The report highlights that despite recent developments in the autonomous sector, internationally traded fully autonomous vessels appear to be decades in the future.

Moreover, Søren Skou, chief executive of Maersk, has been quoted as saying:

I don’t expect we will be allowed to sail around with 400-metre-long container ships weighing 200,000 tonnes without any human beings on board.