Early in 2018, an oil tanker caught fire after colliding with another boat in the East China Sea, killing more than two dozen people. Safety is one of many reasons that companies are looking to automation in shipping. The Yara Birkeland is an electric container ship that is supported by radar, LiDAR, machine learning and computer vision systems, an automatic mooring system and a network for cameras. It is currently on schedule to transition from traditional human-crewed operation to fully autonomous operation in 2020. Electric ships that don’t require people would offer cost savings throughout the entire shipping supply chain. They could be safer, solve labor shortages, and be better for the environment. The International Maritime Organization has begun a scoping exercise that will complete in 2020 after which practical drafting will start and lay the legal foundation for maritime autonomous surface ships.
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