International Maritime Organization to promote autonomous shipping

Ministry of Transport and Communications
Publication date 19.10.2021 14.15
Press release
A man using a tablet on board a ship. (Photo: Shutterstock)
A man using a tablet on board a ship. (Photo: Shutterstock)

The Marine Safety Committee of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has decided to promote autonomous shipping. It proposes the launching of preparations for regulations enabling autonomous maritime systems. Finland played an active role in the preparation of the decision.

The IMO Marine Safety Committee reached the decisions on autonomous ships at its session on 4-8 October 2021. The aim is to create internationally binding regulations to enable safe automation of maritime transport systems.

Earlier this year the IMO completed a regulatory scoping exercise to identify existing IMO instruments that prevent autonomous ship operations. Based on the exercise results, the Maritime Safety Committee agreed to develop a goal-based instrument for maritime autonomous surface ships (MASS). MASS are vessels capable of operating independently or remotely controlled.

Future work includes the preparation of guidelines, definition of key concepts and cooperation with other IMO committees. In its intersessional meeting on 12-14 October 2021, the IMO's Facilitation Committee (FAL) issued a report on the regulatory scoping exercise to identify instruments that prevent autonomous ship operations. The exercise was carried out by Finland.

Automation work is just getting started

With its decisions, the IMO is creating a framework for autonomous maritime transport systems. It will take at least ten years before the use of autonomous ships is allowed in international waters.

Promoting autonomous shipping and creating the goal-based instrument are included in the current Maritime Safety Committee's two-year programme for 2022-2023 and in the preliminary programme of the next Committee. According to the now approved proposal for a work programme, the goal-based instrument for MASS should be completed in 2025. However, it is likely that the work will continue even after that.

Finland's goal is to be a pioneer in maritime automation, from the viewpoint of both technological development and legislation enabling its implementation. Finland wants to use automation for creating safer, more efficient and more sustainable water transport.

Pandemic highlighted the need for remote surveys

In its session, the Maritime Safety Committee approved two draft resolutions, one on piracy and the other on the COVID-19 pandemic, with a view to adoption at the next session of the IMO Assembly. In addition, the Committee decided to start developing guidance on remote surveys of vessels.

During the pandemic, the IMO Member States made use of digital solutions to survey vessels, and the experience show that remote surveys could be a viable alternative to verifying the validity of vessel certificates. However, wider use of remote surveys requires well-functioning processes so that remote surveys can be carried out with similar precision as surveys on board.

What next

The Ministry of Transport and Communications will organise a hybrid event on automated shipping on 2 December 2021 at 10.30-12.30. Participants can attend the meeting either online through Teams or in person in Helsinki. The event will also be available as webcast. A more detailed programme and instructions for registration will be issued later. Welcome to join us and discuss how we can promote a human-centred approach to autonomous water transport systems transparently together.


Anne Miettinen, Senior Ministerial Adviser, tel. +358 40 754 9862, [email protected], Twitter @AnneMiettinen1

Saara Reinimäki, Director of Automation Unit, [email protected], tel. +358 50 303 3065, Twitter @saarare

Katja Viertävä, Senior Government Adviser, [email protected], tel. +358 40 771 8522