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International shipping figure evokes prospect of “unmanned” ships


OTTAWA, Ont.– A prominent international shipping figure has suggested “there will be a time when there will be a mix of manned and unmanned ships in coastal areas” around the world.

This will require major revisions in collision regulations, said Peter Hinchcliffe, Secretary General of the London-based International Chamber of Shipping whose members account for 80% of the world tonnage on the high seas.
He made this rather startling observation while commenting on global technological changes at an annual conference of the Canadian Shipowners Association and the Lake Carriers Association of the United States.
Hinchcliffe acknowledged: “I would not personally like to be on the bridge of a manned ship waiting to know if the unmanned ship on my port bow will in fact give (right of) way.”
He indicated that he was aware of at least one limited voyage undertaken by an unmanned prototype.
While he does not see a firm trend towards all ocean ships operating without crews, he sees “an evolution toward unmanned or minimally manned shjips on local voyages.”
According to Hinchcliffe, “navigation and collision avoidance problems are generally s

Secretary General of the London-based International Chamber of Shipping

Secretary General of the London-based International
Chamber of Shipping

traightforward” – an assertion that is similar to those of  advocates of unmanned trucking operations in certain circumstances.
But he questioned how unmanned ships could be navigated in bad weather conditions “when so often ship safety and prudence are communicated through the soles of the watchkeeper’s feet, leading to speed and course changes to ease the pressure on the ship’s structure.”
Hinchcliffe said he has asked the proponents of unmanned ships to discuss bringing such vessels into pilotage waters,  and all agreed that a pilotage team should be required on board. “In bad weather, how will the ship be safely held off the coast if the pilotage team cannot
be brought on board due to the conditions?”
Turning to the hot button issue of ballast water regulations, Hinchcliffe sharply criticized the United States for denying the legitimacy in its own waters of the Ballast Water Convention under the umbrella of the International Maritime Organization (IMO).
He noted that the Convention offered “a dramatic example of an asprational requirement for ships to fit equipment that was certainly not available when the  convention was adopted and whose availability to meet the compliance criteria, even today eleven years after adoption, is still highly questionable.”
Hinchcliffe charged that by pressing ahead with its own national regulations the United States “is on the verge of creating an impossible situation for owners.”
The IMO convention ios expected to receive ratification soon from a host of countries, including Canada. But equipment of the type approved under the IMO regimemay very well not be compliant with highly stringent U.S. standards for ships operating in U.S. waters.
Existing treatment equipment costs up to $5 million per ship – “and the U.S. may gracefully offer a dispensation of only five years to operate in U.S. waters before another $5 million must be spent on
U.S.-approved equipment.”
“This is an example of complete disregard for the level playing field in international regulation,” Hinchcliffe affirmed.
“Here in Canada,” he continued, “you are aware of this pressing problem. Whilst you probably do need a unique bilateral arrangement to cope with a regulation where ‘one size’ does not fit all in the
Great Lakes, I also believe that the international industry has to

Secretary General of the London-based International Chamber of Shipping

Secretary General of the London-based International
Chamber of Shipping

reach an accomodation with the US.”


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