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Unmanned vessels are usually remotely operated and monitored. There is no need for a crew on board, but a human operator is always in positive control, whether from a support vessel or shore facility.

Autonomous vessel systems are capable of independent decision making without involvement of a human operator.

Autonomous collision avoidance systems are still being developed, but they are becoming increasingly sophisticated and capable.

Unmanned vessels and vessels with increased levels of autonomy in Australia are rapidly increasing in number, particularly in the fields of scientific research, hydrography, oceanography and the off-shore oil and gas industry.

Unmanned vessels are now expanding to other more general purposes and its growth in industry seems bound by its increasing accessibility and affordability.

Under the law there is nothing to prevent the operation of unmanned and autonomous vessels here in Australia, although there are some challenges in meeting the requirements for domestic commercial vessels.

Our aim is to proactively work through these issues with vessel owners and operators to comply with the National Law, and ensure the safety of vessels, people and the environment.

In late 2016, AMSA received its first enquiry for an unmanned hydrographic survey vessel, which now operates in Australian waters.

The 5.5-metre-long vessel is called C-Worker 5. A support vessel or nearby shore facility operates the vessel remotely for different purposes—the most recent being to conduct a fish habitat survey on Perth’s Swan River.

To be compliant with the National Law, the operator applied for a specific exemption from some parts of the National Standards for Commercial Vessels (NSCV).

AMSA conducted a detailed survey ofthe vessel and considered the risks associated with the vessel and its operation.

When AMSA issued the exemption and the certificate of operation, it contained a series of conditions for the vessel and how it is safely operated.

With increased use of unmanned vessels and increasing autonomy, regulators around the world—including AMSA—are looking at how they can apply existing maritime regulatory frameworks practically and appropriately for these vessels, based on safety, risk, and practicality.

But not only do we want regulations relating to unmanned and autonomous vessels to be applicable, we want them to be sustainable in an environment of rapid technological change.

Source: AMSA - Working Boats