Public, private sectors join forces for self-navigating ships

The transport ministry and major shipping companies aim to put self-navigating vessels into practical use by 2025, it has been learned.

They seek to enhance maritime safety and deal with a shortage of workers through self-navigating vessels that receive operational guidance from land via telecommunications. The ministry will take the lead in creating international rules concerning the self-navigating vessels, while shipping firms will accelerate technological development.

The ministry will compile a roadmap by this spring showing steps toward achieving practical use of self-navigating vessels.

Self-navigating vessels would receive remote support for their operations from a control center on land, communicating through artificial satellites, making it possible to do things like convey optimal sea routes from land and realize automatic docking and undocking.

This will likely reduce the burden on crew members.

Moves to develop these vessels have been accelerating mainly in European countries, including Britain.

However, current international navigation rules do not assume remote control of ships.

Therefore, the transport ministry plans to verify the accuracy of communication data necessary for safe navigation of autonomous ships in various sea areas around the world.

The ministry then hopes to take the lead in creating new rules to be applied to self-navigating vessels at the International Maritime Organization (IMO), which decides on international regulations.

Major shipping firm Nippon Yusen K.K. will accelerate efforts to develop technologies for self-navigating vessels to reduce the burden of such tasks as around-the-clock watches by crew members.

The company intends to develop a computer program that automatically detects the possibility of a collision with another ship or floating objects, and helps the ship avoid this through remote control.

However, some crew members will be needed to respond in cases of accidents, so the company has no plan to aim for the operation of completely unmanned ships.

About 80 percent of accidents at sea are caused by human errors, such as insufficient watching and inappropriate operation. The introduction of self-navigating vessels is expected to help reduce such accidents.

Given the increase in the volume of global maritime transportation, there are concerns about a possible shortage of crew members in the future.

The latest move is also aimed at preparing for such a situation.

Source: The Yomiuri Shimbun

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