JAPAN’S NYK has undertaken what’s claimed to be the world’s first Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) trial, with a vessel sailing between China and Japan and then on a coastal voyage.

The NYK-operated PCTC Iris Leader (70,826 GT) was navigated day and night using the Sherpa System for Real ship (SSR) navigation system, from September 14-17 between Xinsha and Nagoya and then September 19-20 between Nagoya and Yokohama. Crew performed typical duties during the voyages, which included Japan’s coastal area but excluded bays.

NYK says the trial was performed in accordance with the IMO’s Interim Guidelines for MASS trials as the company begins tests to realize its target of manned autonomous ships “for safer operations and a reduction in crew workload”.


During the trial, the SSR’s performance in actual sea conditions was monitored as it collected information on environmental conditions around the ship from existing navigational devices, calculated collision risk, automatically determined optimal routes and speeds that were safe and economical, and then automatically navigated the ship.

“Using data and experience gained through this trial but not obtainable through onshore simulators, NYK was able to ensure the feasibility of the SSR and its benefit for safe and optimal operations. This trial was a big step toward realizing NYK’s goal of manned autonomous ships,” the company said.

NYK will analyse the data and continue to develop the SSR into a more advanced navigation-support system by making adjustments to the difference between the optimal course derived by the program and that determined by professional human judgment.

The SSR verified by this trial will also be applied to future coastal ships, which currently face serious crew shortages, NYK says. The Group says it will accelerate its digitalization efforts and will conduct development and demonstration tests of advanced operational support technologies to realise manned autonomous ships.

The IMO outlined autonomous ship trial guidelines in June, 2019. NYK said the Iris Leader trial was conducted with approval from flag state Panama and local authorities including the Coast Guard. “NYK’s aim of manned autonomous ships that will make use of advanced technologies and remote support from office to support ship operation and enhance safety,” the company said.