Tugboats Lead the Way in Automation

Cape May maritime lawyers advocate for those who may be injured due to tugboats being automated.Automated vehicles no longer belong to the realm of futuristic imaginings (Jetson’s cartoons), science fiction, or fringe technology. Today, both on land and at sea, vehicles are being equipped with technology that enables them to navigate without a human occupant operating the vehicle.

Tugboat Technology Onboard Now

The tugboat sector has increasingly been adding Unattended Machinery Space (UMS) notations to its new ships. International Convention standards called SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea) set requirements for ships that travel in international waters. SOLAS requires vessels be identified with a notation called the Unattended Machinery Space (UMS) if they have some degree of automated capacity. See SOLAS l974 Chapter II-1, regulations 46 to 53.

Sanmar builds tugboats and has been increasingly adding automation technology to its tugs. While in 2014 only six of 16 new Sanmar tugs bore then UMS notation by 2018 it built 15 out of 20 new tugs having the UMS notation.

Precautions Expected During Testing

IMO aims to integrate new and advancing technologies into its regulatory framework. Recently, its Marine Safety Committee released interim guidelines for conducting trials of Marine Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS). The overarching goal is to conduct the trials so that at least the same degree of safety, security, and protection of the environment is provided by the MASS as the equipment and manpower it is designed to replace. The risk of the trials is to be assessed and made as low as reasonably practicable and acceptable.

Two areas of concern are to take precautions during MASS trials to:

  • use appropriately trained and skilled onboard and remote operators; and
  • take steps to minimize or prevent cyber risks of infiltrating system management or compromising automation infrastructure integrity.

Automation Technology is Currently Being Tested

Collaborative efforts are underway to develop automation and remote control technology for vessels. Svitzer (a Maersk subsidiary), Kongsberg, and Lloyd’s Register (a trade organization) have jointly conducted trials in Copenhagen on “Hermod” a harbor tug. The trials tested new remote control technology. The trials spurred adding more sensor input data, such as engine noise and vibrations, to remote control masters.

The International Marine Organization (IMO), an agency within the United Nations, has defined four distinct groups of MASS vessels based on the degree of automation, ranging from semi-autonomous to completely autonomous. They are:

  • Automated processes and decision support and manned
  • Remotely controlled and manned
  • Remotely controlled and unmanned
  • Fully autonomous using an onboard navigation system unmanned

The Future of Automation

Shipping industry leaders note that integrating MASS technology will likely occur progressively over time. They point to technology such as proximity monitors and self-docking technology as possible first entrants into the race to automate. Complete onboard navigation technology on unmanned ships is likely not going to be implemented until after partially automated technology proves successful.

Adjusting the Regulatory Framework

IMO has established a work group to further study automation in the shipping industry due to convene in the near future. It will identify provisions in various maritime treaties that apply to MASS and evaluate the extent of treaty revisions that may be necessary to address MASS issues.

Cape May Maritime Lawyers at Freedman & Lorry, P.C. Stay up to Date on Changes Affecting Maritime Workers

Resolving injuries that occur at sea involves applying maritime law to determine liability and damages awards. It requires an understanding of how ships work, the regulatory framework, and applicable international maritime laws and treaties. If you have been injured at sea, contact one of our experienced Cape May maritime lawyers to arrange a free consultation. Call Freedman & Lorry, P.C. today at 888-999-1962 or submit an online form. From our offices in Cherry Hill, New Jersey and Philadelphia, we serve clients throughout South Jersey, including those in the areas of Cape May, Gloucester, and Wildwood. We also have offices in Pinehurst, North Carolina to assist clients in the south.