You know ancient ships with rows and sails, as well as Victorian steamships. You also know that some modern ships run on methanol and ammonia. But do you know what MASS is?
Maritime Autonomous Surface Ship (MASS)” refers to a ship which, to a varying degree, can operate independent of human interaction. These autonomous ships represent a significant advancement in the field of maritime transportation and have the potential to revolutionise the shipping industry in several ways.ccording to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), “
Advantages of MASS
One key advantage of a MASS is its potential to improve safety in maritime operations. By removing the need for human crew members, these ships can eliminate the risks associated with human error and fatigue, leading to fewer accidents and improved overall safety standards.
MASS can also greatly reduce incidents where lives are lost in adverse weather or in instances of maritime security issues such as piracy attacks.
Additionally, a MASS has the potential to reduce operational costs significantly as they do not require crew amenities or accommodations, making them more cost-effective and efficient compared to traditional manned vessels.
Levels of autonomy
The degrees of autonomy identified for the purpose of the scoping, according to the IMO:
- Degree one: Ship with automated processes and decision support. Seafarers are on board to operate and control shipboard systems and functions. Some operations may be automated and, at times, unsupervised, but with seafarers on board ready to take control.
- Degree two: a remotely controlled ship with seafarers on board. The ship is controlled and operated from another location. Seafarers are available on board to take control and operate the shipboard systems and functions.
- Degree three: Remotely controlled ship without seafarers on board: The ship is controlled and operated from another location. There are no seafarers on board.
- Degree four: Fully autonomous ship: The operating system of the ship is able to make decisions and determine actions by itself.
Regulatory and safety issues
As mentioned, autonomous ships offer considerable benefits such as safety, efficiency, and improved operation. However, as a novel presence in the global maritime industry, they face significant cybersecurity and safety concerns.
For instance, developing reliable autonomous systems and sensors for navigation and collision avoidance are complex issues. Ensuring secure communication and data exchange between autonomous ships and shore-based control centers is also a critical challenge.
At the same time, if a vessel is automated, a minor cyber security breach could result in great loss. Addressing potential vulnerabilities to cyber-attacks and ensuring robust cybersecurity measures are in place, is of utmost importance to prevent any unauthorized access or manipulation of the ship’s systems.
Consequentially, regulating MASS has been puzzling IMO for years. IMO initiated a regulatory scoping exercise in 2017 for MASS in relation to the safety of navigation.
IMO then concluded that high-priority issues needed to be addressed, including the development of MASS terminology, functional requirements of remote-control stations, revision of provisions for manual operations, watchkeeping, search and rescue, and information requirements for safe operation.
Additionally, the Legal Committee (LEG) in December 2021 found that existing provisions of international conventions could accommodate MASS, but interpretations or amendments might be required. These include:
- the role and responsibility of the master/remote operator
- liability questions
- causation issues
- certification requirements.
Moreover, the 107th session of the IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee made progress on developing a non-mandatory goal-based instrument regulating MASS operations, expected to be adopted by 2025.
MSC 107 also noted the common position of the group on training, certification, and competency requirements, stating that STCW applies to seafarers on MASS but not remote operators and masters at ROC.
IMO has also acknowledged that the new MASS Code will need to address all training, certification, and competency requirements.
MASS in action
Yara Birkeland, a joint effort between the Norwegian firm Yara International ASA and a number of other companies, is perhaps the most well-known autonomous ship in the world. In the spring of 2022, the Porsgrunn area welcomed the commercial debut of the autonomous vessel Yara Birkeland.
According to Yara International ASA, the ship will gradually become more independent of human control during the course of its first two years of service.
Furthermore, from February 26 to March 1 2022, the Designing the Future of Full Autonomous Ship (DFFAS) consortium conducted a successful trial simulating the actual operation of a fully autonomous ship by having the vessel sail a distance of approximately 790 kilometers between Tokyo Bay and Ise Bay.
You can watch following the DFFAS consortium’s efforts over one and a half year to realize a fully autonomous ship, in the documentary below:
Earlier this year, Samsung Heavy Industries successfully demonstrated autonomous vessel navigation from South Korea to Taiwan. The demonstration covered 1,500 km from Geoje, South Kyungsang Province, to Jeju Island and Kaohsiung Port.
Finally, in late May, Kongsberg Maritime successfully completed the autonomous operation of Eidsvaag Pioner, a coastal cargo ship, in Norway.
Where we stand
Maritime autonomous surface ships pose an opportunity for more efficient and safer shipping. Seafarers can benefit from automation and have more free time onboard, especially in a time of low manning levels.
Autonomous vessels can potentially reduce human error and increase operational efficiency. They can also navigate through challenging weather conditions and remote areas, making shipping more reliable and cost-effective.
However, there are still obstacles to overcome, such as regulatory frameworks, cybersecurity concerns and the importance of proper training to ensure high safety standards.
Finally, the integration of autonomous vessels into existing maritime infrastructure may require significant investments in technology and infrastructure upgrades.