BIMCO position statement 16: Autonomous Ships


BIMCO's position has been approved by the BIMCO Board of Directors.


 Autonomous (mostly remotely controlled) ships are now operating successfully within inland waterways and in the offshore sector in several countries. The drivers for introducing autonomous ships range from reducing emissions (such as switching from road transportation) to lack of seafarers.

An autonomous ship can operate for extended periods with various degrees of reduced human input. Three dimensions characterise such a ship: the automated systems in operation, the level of remote control, and the level of manning. At the International Maritime Organization (IMO), these three dimensions have been classified in four degrees of autonomy:

  • Degree one: Ship with automated processes and decision support: Seafarers are on board to operate and control shipboard systems and functions. Some operations may be automated and at times be unsupervised but with seafarers on board ready to take control.
  • Degree two: Remotely controlled ship with seafarers on board: The ship is controlled and operated from another location. Seafarers are available on board to take control and to operate the shipboard systems and functions.
  • Degree three: Remotely controlled ship without seafarers on board: The ship is controlled and operated from another location. There are no seafarers on board.
  • Degree four: Fully autonomous ship: The operating system of the ship can make decisions and determine actions by itself.

The above list does not represent a hierarchical order and a ship can operate at one or more degrees of autonomy during a voyage.

The IMO is currently researching how the safe, secure and environmentally sound operation of so-called Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) could be introduced into IMO instruments. A significant challenge may exist in adapting the regulatory framework to enable autonomous ships to trade globally. The introduction of autonomous ships could also have an impact on cargo liability regimes, such as the Hague and the Hague-Visby Rules. Furthermore, there are several challenges ranging from the human element to technical and commercial issues that need to be resolved. For example, cyber risk management will be increasingly important for autonomous ships. A cyber incident impacting a critical system on board may adversely affect the safety of the ship, crew and cargo.

BIMCO takes a leading role in facilitating the use of autonomous ships in international trade including the development of a standard ship management agreement for autonomous ships. A new version of SHIPMAN called AUTOSHIPMAN is being developed specifically for the management and operation of remotely controlled ships. It is due to be released in 2023.

BIMCO’s position statement

  • BIMCO will contribute to the development of a common understanding of the risks and opportunities of autonomous ships.
  • BIMCO participates in the initiatives by the IMO and CMI (Comité Maritime International) to assess the need for changes to international conventions and national laws for autonomous ships to operate worldwide. 
  • BIMCO recognises the importance of the human element, the need to focus on new competences for seafarers, and the need for human relations’ initiatives to overcome problems such as potential loneliness following the reduction of personnel onboard.
  • BIMCO supports international interim guidelines for MASS trials to ensure operational reliability, safety and protection of the environment. 


Jakob Paaske Larsen
in Copenhagen, DK

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