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Remote-controlled and autonomous ships position paper

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Autonomous ships

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A modern ship today includes complex automated systems. This technological development has allowed for a gradual reduction in crew. Increased data collection, processing and interconnectivity capabilities, enabling the automated systems to be controlled remotely or by algorithms, may grad¬ually further reduce manning and even result in unmanned ships. This has the potential to increase safety, improve the environmental performance of and enable more cost-effective shipping. The technologies for this are rapidly becoming available, but at this stage it is questionable whether their implementation would ensure the safe operation of a ship. 

Currently, there are few showstoppers for more automation in international regulations. However, this is not the case for a reduction in manning. In such a case, the technology replacing manning needs to outperform the crew in terms of safety, efficiency and environmental protection, and amendments or new regulations will be required. DNV GL believes this could be achieved by developing goal-based statutory requirements for such systems, issued by the proper authorities. It should then be left to classification societies to develop specific technical requirements and verification methodologies which establish satisfactory evidence that the statutory requirements are met. In order for stakeholders to obtain the necessary confidence that required safety levels are met, DNV GL will, in its role of class, establish procedures to ensure that the proper processes have been used to develop the product and to verify the safety of the product itself. Verifying the safety of the product will be particularly demanding, but failure to do so will make it difficult, if not impossible, to certify that the technology and its implementation are safe.

DNV GL does not have any opinion on which direction the technological development should take in terms of degrees of autonomy or remote control and the involvement of people. Instead, we aim to support the industry with robust classification services which convey trust in those solutions that are eventually certified by us. 

In this paper, we refer to our role as a classification society in terms of safety assurance.

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