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Home Associations IMO’s Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) Seminar

IMO’s Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) Seminar

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On April 11, 2024, an insightful seminar was organized to delve into the implications, challenges, and opportunities posed by Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) for ports and public authorities. Distinguished speakers representing leading companies and organizations of high calibre shared valuable insights during two panels: one focusing on future trends in autonomous shipping and the other on port technologies.

The presentations from both panels at IMO’s Main Hall showcased significant projects that have the potential to revolutionize the maritime industry. However, it was evident that there exists a noticeable gap between the envisioned future and the current reality.

The first panel’s theme was on “MASS and technology developers’ perspective” and was moderated by Mr. Ørnulf Jan Rødseth, ISO TC8

Three short presentations of different aspects of autonomous ships in port: From the ship perspective; from the cargo handling and mooring perspective; and from the remote operations perspective. 

In particular:

Ms. Alina Collingfrom ABB Norway, Product Manager Pilot Family – the building blocks for Autonomous Ships: ABB’s Stepwise Approach to Autonomy by Viewing a Ship as a System of Systems; an excellent presentation.

Then come Mr. Janne Suominen from MacGregor, Finland Manager, Offering Development: Automated onboard cargo handling and mooring – Benefits for shortsea shipping; well construed presentation and finally,

Ms. Kristine Prøsch from Massterly, Norway, Chief Product Officer (CPO): Remote operation of ships in port; she was in full control of a very difficult aspect but managed well.

Despite the ambitious vision for MASS, speakers emphasized that the industry is still in its infancy stages in terms of research and practical implementation. Several challenges, including the lack of standardized definitions, data exchange protocols, and industry-wide standardization, highlight the disparity between the envisioned future and the current situation. Additionally, the maritime sector’s conservative approach towards adopting advanced technologies, such as virtual reality applications, digital twins, industrial metaverse and others, further underscores the gap between vision and reality. Nevertheless, the presentations on MASS applications served to raise awareness of the direction the industry should be heading in and the necessary steps to be taken to achieve those future states. Dreaming big encourages bold thinking and prompts stakeholders to consider the transformative potential of emerging technologies.

l to r: Dr. Patrick Verhoeven, Managing Director, IAPH and Julian Abril Garcia, head of IMO’s Facilitation

 The second panel was on Ports’ perspective,chaired and moderated by Dr. Patrick Verhoeven, Managing Director, IAPH with remote delivery speeches by Mr. Erwin Verstraelen – Chief Digital and Innovation Officer Port of Antwerp-Bruges & Mr. Robert-Louis Cool-CEO of SEAFAR

Mr. Erwin Verstraelen
Mr. Robert-Louis Cool’s remote presentation


Ms. Shiori Kondo – Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, Japan 

Ms. Shiori Kondo‘s remote presentation

Following the presentations, discussion on port technologies further emphasized the industry’s cautious approach to adopting new technologies without immediate returns on investment.

…from Q&A

As highlighted by Dr. Patrick Verhoeven, chair of the panel, less than 3% of global ports have embraced automation with advanced technologies. Despite this, advanced port technology is not a recent development, having been in existence for over 50 years. The groundwork for IT networking (system of systems), was laid in 1973 at the Bremen ports. This pivotal moment saw the implementation of the world’s first port information system, known as the Datenbank Bremische Häfen, implemented by dbh. Since its inception, this system has continuously evolved into a state-of-the-art technology, marking a significant milestone in the advancement of port technology infrastructure.

The presentations from the Port of Antwerp-Bruges and the Japanese Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism showcased ongoing efforts in the sector, reinforcing the importance of port technologies in supporting advancements in ship operations and management, including MASS.


The above is Prof. Evangelos Markopoulos’ view of the seminar, which he attended upon an invitation from allaboutshipping.co.uk. Prof. Markopoulos is an Adjunct Lecturer in Entrepreneurship, University College London School of Management

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