- The U.K.'s Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA) and Department for Transport will study new ways of regulating the autonomous and smart shipping industries to help them deliver new technologies to the traditional maritime sector.
- The £1 million (US $1.3 million) grant will underwrite a new Maritime Autonomy Regulation Lab, where regulators, academics and industry representatives will investigate the best methods for regulating vessels operated remotely and autonomously.
- The global autonomous shipping industry is predicted to grow into a $136 billion behemoth by 2030, according to U.K. maritime regulators.
With the grant, the U.K. is investing to be a player in the emerging autonomous shipping industry as part of its Maritime 2050 vision.
"This £1 million funding will support us to work alongside industry and researchers to ensure our approach to the regulation of autonomous shipping is informed and aligned with developments in technology,” Shipping Minister Nusrat Ghani said in the grant announcement.
The new lab will work in cooperation with the National Oceanography Centre’s (NOC) Marine Robotics Innovation Centre and will promote on-water testing and flagship projects.
"We have already seen an extraordinary demand for this regulatory work and we are confident that we can drive forward future-ready regulations, to be best placed to respond to the challenges and opportunities this fast-moving industry will bring," said Sir Alan Massey, CEO of the MCA.
The International Maritime Organization has embarked on a study of regulations that will need to be addressed when autonomous ships enter service. One of the major challenges is that regulations were written under the assumption that crewmembers would be onboard the vessel, Professional Mariner reported.
The IMO has established definitions for the four levels of autonomous operations for surface vessels. The levels start with a vessel with some automated processes with seafarers on board and end with a fully autonomous vessel that operates by itself. Depending on the technology, a vessel may operate at more than one level during a single voyage, taking on a pilot and crew for docking after an autonomous transoceanic crossing, for example.
The regulations will have to take into account who is responsible for the operation of a vessel in the event of an accident or environmental release, such as a remote operator who may have to hold the same certifications as a shipboard crew, Mayte Medina, chief of the U.S. Coast Guard Office of Merchant Mariner Credentialing, told an industry gathering.