May 27, 2024
Home » Navigating the future: Autonomous Shipping in International Waters.
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This article has been written by Maneta Milton, a 5th year law student from Alliance university, Banglore.

“Autonomous ship” is a broad notion. In actuality, ships may have one or more autonomous on-board operations, some of which may be controlled remotely from shore and others completely independently. A fully autonomous ship would be able to carry out standard operations using automated technology with no human intervention. There are few such vessels now, and most autonomy is a matter of degree. Autonomous shipping is still in its early stages, but as the maritime sector becomes more digitalized and networked, ship owners should be aware of the potential advantages.

Autonomous shipping is no longer an unattainable ambition, but rather an unavoidable reality. Consider self-driving cars, and then scale up to cargo ships sailing the world’s oceans, this is already occurring.

According to the Maritime Executive, these technological marvels have the potential to transform how goods are moved across seas and oceans. The growing digital revolution in transportation and logistics aims to improve efficiency and safety. The purpose of using AI and robotics to automate procedures on board vessels is to remove human error, which is a significant cause of maritime mishaps, while also optimising operations. Autonomous shipping has emerged as a transformative force in the maritime industry, revolutionizing the way good are transported across international waters. As technology breakthrough it push limits of innovation, autonomous vessels are becoming a reality, offering increased efficiency, safety, and sustainability. [1]

Ship autonomy is made possible in large part by artificial intelligence, which allows ships to analyse massive volumes of data in real-time, make wise judgements, and adjust to shifting environmental conditions. With experience, autonomous boats may be able to constantly enhance their performance because of machine learning algorithms. Advanced sensor technologies enable autonomous ships to sense their environment, including radar, LiDAR, and cameras. Boats can safely traverse congested rivers, identify impediments, and track the weather with the aid of these sensors. Satellite and 5G networks are examples of resilient communication networks that provide constant contact between remote control centres on land and self-governing boats. This makes it possible to monitor, regulate, and intervene remotely as needed. Alternatively referred to as unmanned or crewless shipping, autonomous shipping uses cutting edge technology like robotics, AI, and machine learning to manage and steer ships without the need for human interaction. The goal of developing autonomous ships is to decrease total shipping costs, improve operational efficiency, and minimise human error. Autonomous shipping is viewed as a game-changer for the maritime sector because of its ability to optimise route planning, reduce fuel consumption, and increase safety. The Yara Birkeland, an autonomous electric container ship, was developed by Norwegian companies Yara International and Kongsberg Gruppen. It is designed for the transportation of fertiliser products and short-haul goods. This is an all-electric propulsion system. Autonomous navigation and control systems. It also incorporates battery-powered capabilities with the goal of functioning with zero emissions. Originally planned to operate as a manned watercraft before transitioning to totally autonomous operations.[2]

India has taken involved in research and development projects related to autonomous maritime systems. Academic institutions, research groups, and industry entities are working on a wide range of issues, including artificial intelligence, sensor technologies, and autonomous navigation systems. India’s Directorate General of Shipping (DGS) supervises shipping operations. As of my previous update, the regulations or standards governing autonomous shipping may not have been completely specified. However, given the global trend, regulatory frameworks for autonomous shipping are likely to arise to ensure safety and compliance. Collaborations among governments, research institutes, and industry actors are important to the advancement of autonomous shipping. Partnerships and initiatives aimed at stimulating innovation and addressing regulatory challenges are crucial for the successful integration of autonomous boats into Indian waters. Aside from autonomous ships on the wide seas, India has made strides in port automation. Automated cranes, container handling systems, and smart technologies are being implemented at Indian ports to improve efficiency and reduce turnaround time. The Indian maritime sector, which comprises shipping companies and port operators, is anticipated to gradually adopt autonomous technology in order to improve operational efficiency and meet sustainability objectives. Adoption can be influenced by cost-effectiveness, regulatory support, and technological readiness. As India investigates autonomous shipping, infrastructure, cybersecurity, and employment transition problems may emerge. At the same time, India has the potential to become a centre for research, development, and application of autonomous maritime technology.

In the same way that the digital revolution made retail easier to understand, the wave of autonomous ship technology is revolutionising business structures. Businesses are gradually changing their tactics to take advantage of these technology advancements. There are challenges in adapting to this growing change, which includes reconfiguring supply networks and understanding new maritime regulations may feel like uncharted ground. Entire industries, from local delivery services to manufacturing, are being revolutionised by autonomous ships. Adopting new technology is expensive and time-consuming, and cybersecurity is becoming more and more crucial. It takes a professional sailor to steer through regulatory waves.

The legislative structure, which has not kept up with technological advancements, presents the most difficult obstacle. Laws already in place must be modified to permit AI-controlled warships. Because ship’s software makes them vulnerable to hacker attacks, cybersecurity is a problem. The legislative foundation for accepting the concept of autonomous shipping handles a wide range of legal, safety, security, and operational challenges. As of my most recent information update in January 2022, various international agencies, most notably the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), were creating standards for autonomous ships. Autonomous shipping involves vessels that move via international waterways, necessitating the development of international standards and procedures. The IMO, as the world’s maritime regulatory authority, might play a vital role in encouraging international collaboration to develop harmonised standards for autonomous ships. Navigation systems, collision avoidance, emergency response, and cybersecurity should all be included in legislation to ensure the safety and dependability of autonomous ships. These requirements must ensure that autonomous boats may safely operate alongside traditionally manned vessels. Ensuring the highest level of system protection against potential cyber-attacks is vital. The development of dependable robots and artificial intelligence (AI) capable of handling intricate marine tasks still faces technological challenges. AI-driven decision-making tools are one innovation that is paving the way for capable future solutions. Even though it may all seem overwhelming, keep in mind that many people had doubts about vehicles when they were first introduced. In logistics and transportation, autonomous shipping is becoming a real option, not a distant dream.

We are living in a revolutionary period, where enormous seas are being traversed by autonomous ships, and every aspect of marine operations is being revolutionised via the integration of robotics and artificial intelligence. This technological revolution is not limited to the marine sector; it is transforming global trade and economic systems. It’s critical to acknowledge that challenges may arise along the route, ranging from technical glitches to a persistent worry of cybersecurity intrusions. Despite the challenges, human ingenuity and tenacity will enable us to overcome them and usher in a new era of transportation. Future shipping will be more ecologically friendly and efficient than it has been in the past. [3]


[1] Scott Savitz ,The Marine Transportation System, Autonomous Technology, and Implications for the U.S. Coast Guard, Vol. 69,pp. 49-78(2018)

[2] Margot ClevelandChristopher M. FavoThomas J. FreckaCharles L. Owens, Journal of Business Ethics,  Vol. 90,  pp. 199-244 (2009)

[3] Searates blog < shipping#:~:text=Types%20of%20Autonomous%20Vessels&text=The%20first%20type%20is%20Fully,ship%20that%20was%20launched%20recently.> accessed on 09/01/2023

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