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Legislation is the key to the implementation of MASS (maritime autonomous surface ships) on a large scale. This is why it has been the focus of the a-Nav Project from the very beginning. Based on the Complete Functional Equivalence (CFE) principle, we have developed a framework of legislation which is currently in the process of being implemented by the Russian government as a national Maritime and State Flag Administration.

To be compliant with current international regulation, we focus primarily on autonomous ships with people onboard, regardless of whether they control the ship. Such ships are termed semi-autonomous. At the same time we have begun laying the legal framework for a future in which there can be completely unmanned autonomous ships.

Current Russian law already places significant responsibility for ship operation and navigation on the shipowner and many legal acts already treat the ship as an independent subject of legal regulations. We have simply extended this approach further. For example, for functions which are traditionally related to the master of the ship, a marine specialist may act as a master in the crew of a semi-autonomous ship. They may not fully comply with the qualification requirements for the master but would have the final responsibility of a shipowner assigned to such a person.

While shipowner officers may be located outside the autonomous ship, they should have all the necessary technical and organisational tools to operate the ship. All administrative functions, both in managing the crew and in interacting with external persons like port authorities, cargo owners, and so on are the responsibility of the shipowner. This is an example of high-level federal law changes required.

The next level is the regulation of MASS operation under the State Flag for the interim period; that is, the national trial operation. This will take place in Russia in the period from January 2021 until December 2025. Proper regulation has been implemented by the Decree of Government based on IMO Interim Guidelines for MASS trials (MSC.1/Circ.1604, 14 June 2019). This Decree allows every shipping company to carry out MASS operation as an experiment in accordance with the drafted Decree requirements. This document further prescribes full compliance with COLREGs-72 and development of official recommendations regarding the application of COLREGs-72 for MASS automatic operation.

A framework has been finalised based on detailed recommendations created by the Russian Federal Agency for Marine Transport with regard to the provision of algorithms and limitations for automatic collision avoidance systems, a set of by-laws from the Ministry of Transport and guidelines on the classification of MASS by the Russian Maritime Register of Shipping. These are detailed and offer clear guidelines for shipping and technological companies with regard to MASS equipment and operation.

The detailed information about these changes were submitted to IMO MSC on 11 February 2020 (MSC 102/5/14) followed by the notification about a‑Navigation trial project (MSC 102/5/29) and is publicly available.