several bulk ships in the ocean with land in sight

IMO sets the course of new regulation of maritime autonomous ships

Published: 02 June 2022

The IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee (M S C) decided at its meeting 20-29 April 2022 to commence work on the development of a new goal-based instrument regulating the operation of maritime autonomous surface ships (MASS). BIMCO reports from the meeting.

The prospect of autonomous ships operating internationally with little or no human intervention has revealed the need for a regulatory framework for such ships, including their interaction and co-existence with conventional manned ships. The current regulatory framework generally assumes manning and human intervention.

MSC 105 agreed to develop a non-mandatory, goal-based code for MASS, potentially entering into force on 1 January 2028 as a mandatory code through SOLAS and other IMO instruments, as relevant, upon experience with its application.

A roadmap for the development work was approved. The roadmap includes the consideration of key principles, purpose and objectives for the new goal-based code, the consideration of its scope and structure, and the consideration of a common understanding of MASS terminology. The roadmap also includes the consideration of how common challenges that have been identified across several IMO instruments could be addressed, for example the need to clarify the role and responsibility of the “master” for circumstances where shore personnel might control the ship, or the functional requirements of a remote-control centre.

“The work at IMO has been divided in two. The first step, which was completed last year, was for the identification of provisions in the IMO regulation in terms of applicability to MASS. The second step is where we are today, embarking to assess and determine the most appropriate way of addressing MASS operation, taking into account eg. the human element, technology and operational factors”, says Jeppe Skovbakke Juhl, Manager, Maritime Safety & Security at BIMCO.

In parallel to the scoping exercise, the IMO/MSC finalised guidelines for the trial of MASS operations. The aim of the guidelines is to assist relevant authorities and stakeholders ensuring that the trials of MASS related systems and infrastructure are conducted safely, securely, and with due regard for protection of the environment”, says Juhl.

And continue: “This also include that appropriate steps should be taken to ensure sufficient cyber risk management of the systems and infrastructure when conducting MASS trials, as well as considering manning and qualifications of personnel involved in MASS trials.

MSC 105 decided to establish a correspondence group with the aim, until MSC 107 in June 2023, advance the initial steps of the development of a non-mandatory, goal-based code for MASS, noting that the overall discussions indicate deviating views on how to effectively address automation of ship functions.

In parallel, a joint MASS working group for the IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee (MSC), Legal Committee (LEG) and Facilitation Committee (FAL) will be established to address common high-priority issues to ensure a holistic approach.

The MASS Code may become a mandatory instrument in the future.


Ashok Srinivasan


Ashok Srinivasan

Manager, Maritime Safety & Security

Copenhagen, Denmark