Proceedings of the

The 33rd European Safety and Reliability Conference (ESREL 2023)
3 – 8 September 2023, Southampton, UK

Assessing the Impact of Autonomous Vessels on the Navigational Safety of Maritime Transport

Iulia Manolea and Arnab Majumdarb

Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Centre for Transport Studies, Imperial College London, United Kingdom.


Autonomous vessels (AVs) are expected to commission and become operational within the next decade, in response to the declining supply of seafarers and increasing demand for seaborne trade. It is widely assumed that the introduction of autonomy would reduce the occurrence of human-related accidents on ships, but there is a lack of studies on the impact that autonomous vessels would have on the safety of maritime transportation. In this study, quantitative and qualitative tools are used to assess the impact of AVs on maritime transportation safety. Accident and incident data is analyzed to determine the influence of human errors. Then, it will be determined what proportion of these accidents would have been prevented had the vessels involved been unmanned. Thereafter, the frequency of each contributory factor is determined, along with any association between them and the occurrence of navigational human errors. The qualitative method comprises of interviews with industry professionals of different backgrounds, to explore the expected future impact of AVs and determine the main benefits and difficulties. It is predicted and verified by subject matter experts that autonomous vessels will have positive effects, creating less human dependent actions, therefore reducing accident frequency. Obstacles such as the lack of adequate legislation and regulations or possible cyberattacks are also discussed.

Keywords: Autonomous vessels, Unmanned, Maritime safety, Data quality, Thematic analysis.

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