NYK: Japanese shipping company tests autonomous ship on the high seas

Autonomous from China to Japan: The Japanese shipping line Nippon Yūsen (NYK) has for the first time automated a freighter on the high seas. The International Maritime Organization has issued provisional rules for the operation of autonomous vessels.

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NYK has equipped the Panamanian flag car carrier Iris Leader (Pure Car / Truck Carrier, PCTC) with a control system, the Sherpa System for Real Ship (SSR). The system gets data from the navigation devices and calculates on their basis and taking into account the conditions at sea and avoiding dangerous situations with other ships a safe and economical course for the Iris Leader. During the test, SSK was constantly monitored.

The test took place during the crossing from Xinsha in southeastern China to Nagoya and then from Nagoya to Yokohama. The Iris Leader drove part of the route to Nagoya from 14 to 17 September and automated to Yokohama from 19 to 20 September. Only in the bays, the ship was controlled by a human.

The test was an important step in the introduction of Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS), sums up NYK, The data and experience gathered during this time could not have been acquired in simulations on land.

On the basis of this data NYK wants to further develop the SSR. In the future, the system will, for example, be installed in coastal vessels, for which it is becoming increasingly difficult to find crews.

The regulations governing shipping on the high seas are the responsibility of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), a United Nations specialized agency based in London. It has issued anti-collision rules (KVR), as it were, the traffic rules at sea, which do not permit the operation of autonomous ships. At the beginning of June, the IMO issued rules for automated vessel testing, the Interim Guidelines for MASS Trials.