Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS), maritime security, piracy & armed robbery at sea, terrorism, smuggling and trafficking, cyber and hybrid security


Nowadays traditional manned commercial sea-going vessels are facing several difficulties, including shipping accidents that are mainly caused by human errors and the shortage of seafarers with the associated increased manning cost. In 2021, the International Maritime Organisation Maritime Safety Committee (IMO MSC) had finished the Regulatory Scoping Exercise (RSE) regarding Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) at its 103rd session, taking its first step towards autonomous shipping that does not involve human vectors. This paper analyses the security issues that are potentially involved in fully autonomous ships (Degree Four of Autonomy) (DOA 4) of MASS operations and recommend measures to adjust and mitigate the issues. This paper reviews six conventional maritime security threats that could threaten a DOA 4 vessel, including piracy and armed robbery at sea, terrorism, smuggling and trafficking, stowaways, cyber security threat and hybrid security threat. The research methodology of this paper reviews different literature as the source of both quantitative data and qualitative evidence.

This paper analyses the experience of the security incidents in other comparable sectors and systems in order to identify the characteristics and behaviour of the security threats. Then the information is analysed against the specific characteristics of MASS operations to consider whether the characteristics of MASS operations may become more vulnerable if exploited by perpetrators of security threats. Potential issues and scenarios of the security threats in the operations are also discussed. Risk assessments are applied to explore the risk level of the security threats in DOA 4 MASS. This paper demonstrates that the characteristics of DOA 4 MASS operations may still pose vulnerabilities that can be exploited by all the six security threats. The risk of terrorism, smuggling and trafficking, cyber security, and hybrid security threats are high in DOA 4 MASS operations, while the risk of piracy and armed robbery at sea and stowaways are medium. Both the aspects of cyber security, detection/monitoring equipment, reliability of vessel systems, security in Shore Control Centres (SCC) and security in ports contribute significantly to the security of DOA 4 MASS operations against these security threats.

This paper recommends all the aspects mentioned in the above findings should be considered in the development of future instruments regarding DOA 4 MASS operations. The stakeholders involved in DOA 4 MASS operations should apply any possible cyber security and detection/monitoring measures even beyond the legal requirement. The security and personnel management of SCC should be ensured too. Finally, further research on the identified security threats on DOA 4 MASS operations is recommended once more practical data on the operations are available, further research on different DOA of MASS operations and different security threats are also recommended.  

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