Bangladeshi Marine Community, Singapore

Bangladeshi Marine Community, Singapore

MASS – are we getting ready to train our seafarers?

Zakirul Bhuiyan
Associate Professor and Manager, Maritime Simulation and Autonomy at Warsash Maritime School, Solent University, Southampton.



There have been considerable technological developments taking place in the last decade including some of disruptive types. Last decade has seen a rapid development around autonomous vehicles. Autonomous cars like Tesla have already been commercially sold in some parts of the world, while many militaries are using drones for protecting their borders. In the maritime arena, unmanned autonomous sub-surface and surface crafts are being extensively used in area like hydrographic and offshore industries for surveying, maintenance, ferry routes etc.

The maritime industry is highly diverse and complex and has constantly evolved by adapting to technological developments. Ship owners are constantly looking for ways to reduce their direct or indirect costs. Both the smart ship and the remote and autonomous ship technologies have shown the promise of reducing costs in the form of better fuel economy, operation and economic efficiency and reduction or even elimination of human error.

There is an intense competition going on between various nations to become the leader in MASS (Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships) operations. As a result, an incredible pace of technological development can be seen in the field of autonomous systems, which has meant the development of (MASS), is not anymore, a distant reality. It would not be long before we start noticing remotely controlled or at least partially autonomous ships in our waters. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) and numerous other national governments have begun reviewing their legal frameworks through scoping exercises to include new clauses or create exceptions to permit MASS-related trials in their territorial waters. Some countries have already designated testbeds in their waters to allow the companies to test their innovative technologies for the autonomous system. In addition, many nations have established working groups or forums to encourage collaborations among various interests to fuel the technological developments in their regions.

However, it is important to ask, are we getting ready to train our seafarers to meet future challenges? This paper is trying to establish the maritime industry’s approach towards the human capacity and training aspects of the future MASS operations.

Some recent studies established that although technological development has progressed by leaps and bounds, the industry has not devoted much attention to the development of the human element for adapting to technological changes. Although there has been some isolated research work undertaken by a few researchers exploring the challenges faced by seafarers in adapting to the changes in the workplace brought by the introduction of autonomous systems, there has not been any focused attempt towards the development of human capital to make them ready for working on MASS.

Rationale of the introduction of MASS:

We are witnessing an increased deployment of MASS in an effort to deliver shipping companies safe, cost-effective, and high-quality results. Autonomous vessels could theoretically transform shipping, increasing efficiency, improving safety, and supporting sustainability across the maritime industry. One of the most exciting prospects for the Maritime industry is the growth of autonomous shipping with some sources predicting the sector to be worth up to 11 billion USD by 2030 and employing 554,000 people (figure 1).

Figure 1: Size of the global autonomous ship market and its forecast for next decade (In Billion U.S. Dollars)

The need for autonomy was also felt in the maritime industry and great developments were initiated and carried out to develop technologies to make maritime autonomous surface ships (MASS) a reality in not-too-distant future. What were the factors which motivated the industry to make these developments?

In one of the author’s recent studies, he has highlighted three main drivers/ motivators for the development of the autonomous vessels.

  1. Minimising safety risks by eliminating human errors. Historically different studies have highlighted that human error has completely or partially contributed towards about 75-96% of marine casualties.
  2. Minimising the environmental impact by optimising ship’s operations (such as saving fuels, removing ship’s superstructure, eliminating Human element needs, requirements and wastage from crew)
  3. Maximising the commercial benefits by reducing major ship operational costs significantly such as crew costs, fuel costs, lightship weights and no usage of space for crew accommodation and facilities – A study by Varas (2016) identified the Manning costs are about 42% of ship’s total operational costs

When will MASS likely be implemented in the maritime industry?

In a recent survey, the author has asked a question to the new generation of seafarers “How many years from now do you expect autonomous ships to be commonly implemented in merchant shipping operation?”.

Figure 2: Question: How many years from now do you expect MASS to be commonly implemented in merchant shipping operation?

35% of them stated that the autonomous ships may become common in 11-15 years, while about 23% of them were of viewpoint that it will take more than 25 years for MASS to be commonly implemented (figure 2).


The degrees of autonomy identified by International Maritime Organisation (IMO):

The IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) has identified four degrees of autonomy for the purpose of the IMO scoping exercise:

  • Degree one: Ship with automated processes and decision support: Seafarers are on board to operate and control shipboard systems and functions.
  • Degree two: Remotely controlled ship with seafarers on board: The ship is controlled and operated from another location. Seafarers are available on board to take control and to operate if required
  • Degree three: Remotely controlled ship without seafarers on board: The ship is controlled and operated from another location. There are no seafarers on board.
  • Degree four: Fully autonomous ship: The operating system of the ship is able to make decisions and determine actions by itself


MASS Training and challenges:

The present maritime workforce is not equipped with the required knowledge and skills to operate the innovative technology used for operating and maintaining MASS. The training curriculum and programmes need to be developed for upskilling the workforce.

Some of the prominent research conducted in past few years have highlighted ‘Training and Education’ as one of the significant challenges to the successful operation of the MASS. As can be seen some of the quotes emphasizing regarding same.

  • “……training and education are factors affecting the operational risks of MASS.” – Fan, 2020.
  • “……training and reskilling are among the biggest obstacles for MASS adoption….” Nautilus Federation. 2018.
  • “……users of the autonomous technology will for a large part be seafarers. Seafarers should know how to interact with the computer systems to respond to challenges in the operation of autonomous ships, such as when routes are changed, or ships are in hazardous waters. Humans will always be in the centre when we are developing autonomous ships. The important thing is to understand the new roles and skills that will be required of humans in the future” – Oksavik, 2020.
  • “Although they expect their skills to be useful in automation-driven shipping, they also feel that their Maritime Education and Training institutions (MET) are not doing enough to prepare them for the challenges that the future may hold.” Bogusławski, 2022
  • “…..not much has so far been done with respect to MET, which has to be adjusted to the needs of the labour market based on a constant dialogue and close monitoring of the developing technologies and the levels of automation” – World Maritime University. 2019.
  • “…. it will be necessary to amend important provisions, in particular, in SOLAS and the STCW Conventions”, to enable remote-controlled unmanned shipping operations – Vearl, Tsimplis -. The integration of unmanned ships into the lex maritime [J], Lloyd’s Maritime and Commercial Law Quarterly, 2017 (2).

Some national and international initiatives:

There have been several training initiatives taken at national and international level:

MassPeople: Year 2021 – Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) International Training Standards working group: UK MCA, national maritime authorities from Netherlands, Norway, Belgium, Denmark, France, New Zealand, Italy and Poland and industry. The aim of MASSPeople is to explore the human dimension of remote and autonomously enabled ships. The MassPeople working group is working towards development of international training standards for MASS.

UK MASRWG: Maritime Autonomous Systems Regulatory Working Group: UKMASRWG is working since 2016 and published 5th Version UK Industry code of Practice. It has been attempting to identify issues related to the safe operation of maritime autonomous systems and to formulate a regulatory framework that could be adopted by UK, other maritime states, and international regulatory bodies. The group is looking at three principal areas: Technology & Capability, Standards & Regulations, Skills & Training.

AMC Search: The training and consultancy division of the Australian Maritime College (AMC) has been looking into training people involved in development of Autonomous Maritime Systems, which includes Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUV), Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USV).

TARG: Training and Assessment Research Group, University of South-Eastern Norway. The TARG has been working since 2017 to improve human performance with modern complex systems and it is looking into area like Training, Assessment, Human Elements, Safety, Autonomy.

Warsash Maritime School (WMS) has provided first class maritime education, training, research, and consultancy to the maritime and offshore industries for over 70 years. WMS has led or been part of many significant research projects involving simulation, human element, training etc – example: research projects MAXCMAS, HORIZON, MARTHA. It is currently leading research project “IGNITE – Intelligent Ship Centre Project”, looking into remotely controlled Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) investigating training requirements for future navigators.

WMS established Warsash MASS Research Centre (WMRC) in 2022 and the author has been the founding director of this centre. The WMRC is focusing on four key areas: Infrastructure, Regulation, Technology, People. It aims to become an international leader in maritime research related to advanced technologies, education, training, and policy making for Smart Ships, MASS (Maritime Autonomous Surface Ship), and Smart Ports. The goal is to enable research-based policymaking for autonomous ships and their training concepts through the utilisation of large-scale manned models and simulated ships in controlled test facilities.


Going ahead

As a result of MASS implementation, the training that needs to be undertaken will also change. Seafarers need to gain knowledge and skill into areas like network information, automation, cyber physical systems, big data, autonomous navigation and collision avoidance technology, remote control operations, internet of things, artificial intelligence etc.

In the scope of maritime education and training the viable solutions in the following areas will be required:

  • Training to develop hard and soft skills for remote operators of Degree 2 & 3 of MASS. In addition, there will be demand for upskilling marine pilots for remote piloting MASS. In the future, the Remote Controlled (RC) training will need to include the effective cognitive skills to operate uncrewed MASS such as problem solving, critical thinking and decision making.
  • Developing training programs to conduct team-work training between remote operators and onboard crew in Degree 2 of MASS. Carrying out monitoring and trouble shooting and handling emergencies during IMO Degree 2 i.e., remotely controlled ship with seafarers on board:
  • The training that must be undertaken will also change as a result of MASS. We need to deliver the possible solutions in the areas of developing skills of the navigators of conventional ships to safely operate in waters cohabiting with MASS. That means there will be an interaction between manned vessels vs. uncrewed vessels.
  • Researching and developing Human element aspects of remote operators of RCC (Remote Controlled Centre) and future navigators. A new provision of skills for human machine interaction will be required to operate the uncrewed RC MASS.
  • The training providers need to provide safe test beds for future autonomous technologies for MASS.
  • Navigators/operators will require phased implementation, or training on partially to completely autonomous ships, in order to adjust to the changes in accordance with the various levels of autonomy. The duties and responsibilities of the navigation team organisation anticipated to run future Remote-Control Shore Centres will need to be adapted for use in future RC simulation training.

Key Questions to investigate:

Finally, the major research studies will be required to investigate these three key questions:

  • How will the skill sets need to change?
  • What skills will need to be taught as we move forward?
  • Does this task need an individual or teamwork?

The above answers are unknown – more work is needed to identify how to conduct the training of autonomous and remotely operated vessels internationally. We have to remember that the current Seafarers Training, Certification and Watchkeeping i.e., STCW framework is not relevant to MASS.

Note: Reference is available with the writer and may be provided if requested.  

Capt Zakirul Bhuiyan (23) MSc, MBA, PGCE, SFHEA, FNI, FRIN.

Zakirul is presently working as Associate Professor and Manager, Maritime Simulation and Autonomy at Warsash Maritime School, Solent University, Southampton. He is also founding director of Warsash MASS Research Centre. He joined Solent university as a Senior Lecturer in 2006. As a ‘Principal Investigator’, Zakirul had been leading the EU funded ‘STM’ (Sea Traffic Management), ‘MariEMS’ (Maritime Energy Management Training Strategic Partnership) and Innovate UK’s unmanned ship Project ‘MAXCMAS’ (MAchine eXecutable Collision regulations at sea for Marine Autonomous System). He is presently working with the DfT’s Remotely Controlled uncrewed project IGNITE. He also contributed to both the HORIZON and MARTHA projects on seafarer fatigue.


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