Autonomous vessels in Australia

There is increasing use of autonomous and remote operation technology in Australia and worldwide across a range of fields, including in commercial and government settings.

The maritime industry is no exception.

Vessels capable of autonomous and remote operation are being used in oceanography, hydrography, the off-shore oil and gas industry, and to facilitate scientific research. It is anticipated that other parts of the maritime industry will embrace this technology in the future.

We regulate autonomous and remotely operated vessels as:

  • Domestic commercial vessels if they are Australian vessels operating domestically.
  • Regulated Australian vessels if they are Australian vessels that travel internationally.
  • Foreign vessels if they are not Australian vessels but operate in Australian waters.

Currently, these vessels are subject to the same regulatory framework as other vessels, including for survey standards and crewing requirements. Flexibility is obviously required, and in some cases, equivalent means of compliance and exemptions may be available.

What we are doing about emerging technology in Australia

We know there are challenges in applying existing regulations to new technology and we are exploring these issues.

Decisions about autonomous and remotely operated vessel use in Australia will be made in line with the following principles:

  • Autonomous and/or remotely operated vessels must be as safe as manned vessels.
  • Risks to the safety of people, other vessels and the environment must be appropriately addressed.
  • The owner and/or master is responsible for the safety standards and operations of the vessel.
  • For lower risk operators who have a strong safety compliance history, a lighter touch regulatory approach may be appropriate.

We will work with stakeholders, including the regulated community, to develop an effective regulatory treatment for autonomous and remotely operated vessels to ensure they are designed, constructed and operated safely, and with due regard for the protection of the environment.

Australian Autonomous Vessel Forum

To explore the issues around regulation of this emerging technology, we hosted an Australian Autonomous Vessel Forum in Canberra in September 2019.

Read a short summary of the Australian Autonomous Vessels Forum—Post-event Communique. The key themes included within this summary have been developed through the discussion and collaboration that occurred during the forum.

Last updated: 

Monday 2 December 2019