Maritime UK has unveiled a revised set of guidelines for maritime autonomous surface ships (MASSs) to accommodate the rapid pace of change within the sector, writes Brian Dixon,
Maritime UK, the industry body representing the British maritime sector, has now launched the third version of its Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) UK Industry Conduct Principles and Code of Practice. Published by the Maritime UK Autonomous Systems Regulatory Working Group (MASRWG), the first edition of the Code was released in November 2017, with a second version coming out 12 months later. Although not a legal text, the Code, Maritime UK reports, is used by manufacturers, service providers and others “as part of their day-to-day work”, with many manufacturers reporting that their clients require compliance with the Code as a basis for contractual negotiations.
“Previous versions were focused on the design and manufacture of vessels, the operation of autonomous vessels and [had] a particular focus on skills and training,” says Robert Carington, secretary to the MASRWG. “Version Three of the UK Industry Code of Practice demonstrates the UK’s continued leadership on autonomy with new sections on inland waterways. There is also an enhanced section on the principles that should underpin the design, manufacture and operation of autonomous vessels. This version replaces the Code of Conduct (2016) and Version 2 of the Code of Practice (2018).”
“The changes have been made to reflect the fast-paced nature of technological evolution and the [maritime autonomous systems (MAS)] market, which is growing year by year. Thus, the Code is renewed on a yearly basis to incorporate any new major changes and new considerations which will have emerged,” he explains, describing this “growing market” as playing host to “lots of exciting companies, like Fugro, Sea-Kit and Ocean Infinity amongst others” that are working on a wide variety of MAS and MAS-related projects. Indeed, Carington continues, “there are a number of test areas which are recorded in the Code to help shine a light on the main areas where companies can test their new systems to see their operational capacity in a safe environment.”
Putting the new guidelines into their wider, global context, he notes that the MASRWG was established “to identify the issues related to the safe operation of maritime autonomous systems and to help look at ways to formulate a regulatory framework” for their ongoing development and use in the UK. “Through this, the group and its members have fed into the UK’s submission into the (currently) three regulatory scoping exercises being held at the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) by the Maritime Safety Committee, Legal Committee and Facilitation Committee.”
“The group,” he continues, “engages very closely with the UK Government and its work on regulation in this area, such as through the establishment of the Maritime Autonomy Regulation Laboratory (MarLab), with the aim of this project being to provide regulatory and data support to open UK waters to the testing and operation of autonomous vessels; to collaborate with industry to provide regulatory guidelines and frameworks for the sector; and to inform the UK’s position on autonomy at the IMO.”
In line with all this, Maritime UK will stage its fifth MASRWG Conference this coming January 15-16. Running under the banner of Maritime Autonomous Surface Ship (MASS) Regulation – The Tide Has Turned, the event is open to all interested parties and will take place at the premises of the UK Chamber of Shipping in London. “The main keynote speakers will be the Maritime Minister and Sarah Kenny, the vice-chair of Maritime UK and the CEO of BMT Group,” Carington states. “The conference will cover a number of topics, such as, amongst other things, the Code; standards for MASS; liability facing MASS; e-navigation and autonomy; testing of autonomous vessels; and the owner perspective on autonomy.”