New international framework from IMO on autonomous shipping

The IMO Maritime Safety Committee is to establish a new international legal framework for the safe operation of autonomous vessels, following a proposal by a number of countries to include autonomous ships on its agenda.

The IMO said that it would start exploring how existing international regulation could be applied to autonomous ships.

Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, South Korea, the UK and the US proposed the inclusion, which gave rise to a prolonged debate at the 98th session of the IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee.

The issue is now scheduled to be discussed at the next meeting of the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC 99), following which a plan will be drawn up.

The Danish Maritime Authority said that “despite some concern, it was generally agreed that the IMO needs to start its work now. There was also general agreement that the IMO must take into consideration how developments will affect the seafarers,”

Lasse Karlsen, Technical Director in Norwegian Maritime Authority, said that “there was a surprisingly high level of support for starting the work on the regulation of autonomous ships, even from countries expected to be negative as they are major suppliers of seafarers”.