The Maritime Union of Australia has questioned the motivation of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority by secretly endorsing the operation of unmanned vessels while at the same time staying silent on the need for Australian seafarers to protect our coast.
In a story titled “Australia allows unmanned ships in its waters”, London-based publication Lloyd’s List has blown the lid on plans for possible widespread use of unmanned vessels in as little as three years.
“Australian Maritime Safety Authority chief executive Mick Kinley said that earlier this year, the authority had granted a request for the operation of a remotely operated unmanned hydrographic vessel,” the story says.
“The permission involved granting exemptions from a number of regulatory requirements, which took about two months to secure.”
MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin said the story was of grave concern, given Kinley reportedly said AMSA would be open to allowing an unmanned cargo-carrying vessel to operate within Australian waters should it receive such a request.
“It is highly hypocritical for AMSA to sit on the sideline while Australian shipping is being dismantled while leading the pack on ships with no one on them,” Crumlin said.
“The recent Senate Inquiry Into Flag of Convenience Shipping heard that foreign crews pose risks to Australia’s pristine coastline due to their lack of knowledge of Australia’s coastline and local conditions.
“At face value, putting robots in charge seems even worse – you would have to be very, very sure that the automated systems work in all conditions in order to prevent an environmental disaster on the Great Barrier Reef or elsewhere.”
Kinley reportedly said he thought completely unmanned ocean-going vessels were unlikely, as someone would have to maintain that automation equipment and it certainly would not be done with vessels powered by heavy fuel.
“The point remains that properly trained, experienced Australian seafarers remain the best and safest way to ensure that cargo is delivered safely around the Australian coast,” Crumlin said.
The International Maritime Organization Maritime Safety Committee agreed in June to develop a scope for the regulation of autonomous ships. Mr Kinley reportedly said he expected bilateral agreements between countries for the navigation of autonomous vessels within their waters before there was international regulation on the matter. Lloyd’s List reported that Australia’s “open-minded approach” towards autonomous vessels might have something to do with its campaign for an elevated position in the IMO Council.
“The issue of automated shipping needs to be fully considered by the Australian people through a proper public debate not by a sneaky rule change by a supposedly impartial government agency,” Crumlin said.