13 September 2017

Autonomous Merchant Ships and Cyber Safe Freight Vessels Progress Faster Than Expected  

Vessel Registry Launches New Report and Guidelines

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Shipping News Feature UK – WORLDWIDE – Lloyd's Register (LR), founded as a merchant vessel registry in 1760 and which has latterly morphed into a global business service, still has its feet firmly planted on the ocean floor as evidenced by the latest information released by the company. Working in conjunction with QinetiQ and the University of Southampton a new report, itself a follow-up to the Global Marine Technology Trends 2030 report previously produced by the three collaborators, looks at autonomous maritime systems and how these will impact the carriage of sea freight, having already started testing in the military field. Tim Kent, Technical Director, Marine and Offshore, Lloyd’s Register, comments:

“Networks of autonomous surface and underwater vessels are set to radically change the nature of maritime operations. Developments widely reported in the media, such as those in autonomous shipping, are happening with greater pace than expected as little as 2 years ago. These developments enabled by technology provide new opportunities and potential for disruptive business models. However, the principal challenges will be the integration of these autonomous systems into current maritime operations, legal and regulatory requirements, and not least the impact upon seafarers.”

Tim Kent’s partners in the preparation of the report are equally enthusiastic at the changing face of maritime delivery systems with Bill Biggs, Senior Campaign Leader for Autonomy, QinetiQ, saying:

”Technological advances in consumer and adjacent markets are a real opportunity for the maritime sector. Applied artificial intelligence, low cost low size sensors, increased connectivity, improved cyber security and better energy management are all likely to drive rapid and disruptive change. Trials already undertaken by navies and transport companies demonstrate the opportunities that autonomous maritime systems present. In 2016 QinetiQ supported Unmanned Warrior, the largest demonstration of its type ever conducted, running as part of a major multinational naval exercise. It’s just one example of the steps the UK is taking to keep up with the accelerating pace of change.”

Professor Ajit Shenoi, Director of the Southampton Marine and Maritime Institute at the University of Southampton commented that the report recognises that autonomous systems and associated technologies will require people to learn to work seamlessly with them, continuing:

”Crew members of the future may become shore based, managing vessels remotely from the office or the sea, creating the need for new training and skillsets. The potential for the command and control to be geographically displaced from the vessel will also require behavioural and cultural changes within the maritime community.”

A further sign of the changing face of life at sea also emanates from LR with the release of Type Approval Requirements for components within Cyber Enabled Systems on board Ships. Introduction of this type approval procedure is important, as it defines a critical point in the evolution of smart technology implementation within the marine and offshore industry, delivering an assurance system that provides confidence in the market for the supply of cyber enabled components.

Cyber of course is the buzzword of current maritime parlance with the recent attack affecting Maersk and its subsidiaries still uppermost in the industry’s mind. Now providing all the benefits of traditional type approval - reassurance on supply chain quality and robustness within the marine environment - the new procedure will also incorporate consideration to the functioning of a ‘cyber enabled’ system, such as cyber security.

The type approval procedure will address: Production quality assessment in the supply chain; Marine environment testing for cyber enabled components and Verification of the cyber functions, such as communication and cyber security. Shipyards and designers will be able to select type approved component parts to build cyber enabled ‘smart’ ship systems with a new level of confidence and quality indication. Manufacturers of components will be able to demonstrate their product as meeting LR's requirements on the above and differentiate their products in the market. LR Marine & Offshore Innovation Strategy and Research Director, Luis Benito, said:

“Type approval will work together with LR’s Cyber Enabled ShipRight document, providing type approved components to use in cyber systems, such as predictive maintenance and performance optimisation. Together this offers the complete cyber solution for the future, from components to systems to functions.”

LR points out that it has been a leader in the safe adoption of digital technologies within the marine and offshore sector, and has pioneered a ‘total-systems’ approach. In February 2016, LR issued the first guidance on cyber enabled ships: ‘Deploying Information and Communications Technology in Shipping – Lloyd’s Register’s Approach to Assurance’. This identified the elements that constitute a cyber enabled ship and the activities that need to take place to ensure that cyber technology does not introduce a safety risk, effectively providing the industry with a route map to understanding the implications of digital technology.

This was followed with the introduction of the industry’s first ShipRight procedure, which details LR’s framework for accepting cyber technology at varying levels of autonomy – from ships with the most basic decision support tools to vessels that are fully autonomous – identifying the assessments, processes and considerations that need to be followed. Cyber security is addressed as one of the six risk areas studied for connected ships and requirements are included within the ShipRight Procedure, without meeting these it is not possible to certify the level of autonomy as safe. The first ships to be classed with LR’s cyber notations were delivered in May this year.

A new set of cyber security services were also introduced in 2017. Built on an easy to use model that provides clarity and allows evolution in line with emerging threat patterns and the changing regulatory environment, it is designed to help LR clients understand how cyber secure they are now and what level of security they want to achieve in the future. These services deliver cyber security gap analysis and other readiness services to owners, operators and other clients against the US Coast Guard Strategy on cyber security and forthcoming IMO regulations as well as the cyber security best practice already established in other industry sectors, such as Naval.

Photo: A vessel performing as part of the 2016 Unmanned Warrior programme which saw surface and subsurface vessels coupled with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in a UK led semi-annual NATO exercise.

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