Autonomous vessel can implement an innovative business model cutting the cost and enhancing the efficiency, due to this reason, this concept has achieved great concentration in commercial shipping (Munim 2019). The concept has gathered maximum attention among the researchers also, as this emerging concept will take the maritime industry towards the fourth industrial revolution. Many aspects of autonomous vessel have been studied by the researchers worldwide. Wróbel et al. (2020) studied on the research direction of remote-controlled autonomous vessel using the ‘System Theoretic Process Analysis (STPA)’.In this research the author reviled that most of the autonomous researches are related to the technical function where organizational and human issues are overlooked (Wróbel et al. 2020). Karlis Thanasis (2018) in his research ‘Maritime law issues related to the operation of unmanned autonomous cargo ships ‘describes about the important sector of existing maritime law and regulation, which should be revised in accordance with the autonomous vessel’s operational function (Karlis 2018). The study focused on the organizational function related to the autonomous vessel, the competitiveness of the vessel is not explained in this study. Another researcher Christos Flokkou (2021) described about the alternatives of the autonomous vessel, along this explained the possible challenges (Flokkou 2021). The study is qualitative research where the solutions to mitigate the challenges are also suggested. Though the research broadly described about different levels of autonomous vessel, the appropriate one is not identified (Flokkou 2021). Munim, Ziaul Haque in his paper ‘Autonomous ships for container shipping in the Arctic routes’ analyzed the competitiveness of several autonomous vessels and find out the appropriate vessel for the arctic region using the opinions of the expertise, in this research he used MCDM technique for data analysis (Munim et al. 2020). The study covers important criteria for shipping, but didn’t emphasize the collision avoidance ability, which is crucial for safe navigation. This research gap encouraged the author to conduct a study on the appropriate autonomous vessel for one of the world’s busiest maritime trade regions South-East Asia, based on the collision avoidance capability. As ship and seafarers both are perceived as the prior element for ship management (Utureanu and Cristina 2016), the author collected the seafarers’ opinion in this study. This study aims to find out the best suitable autonomous vessel among four alternatives for safe navigation in Southeast Asia. The research comprised the three important elements – Autonomous vessel, South-East Asia’s maritime route and opinion of seafarers. Reviewing the existing literatures, author has found that none of the research has worked on the arena of this current study.

Autonomous vessel

The autonomous vessel has achieved tremendous interest worldwide; in line with this, many researchers have shown their interest in autonomous vessel development. The vital factor of this research is to analyze surroundings and monitor own health condition (Vtt 2016). Automation is such a process equipped with a machine and AI control that can replace humans in any operation (Bureau of Shipping 2021). The definition of the autonomous vessel is differ according to project. The Norwegian Forum for Autonomous Ships (NFAS) defined autonomous ship as a computerized vessel which is able to operate without any human interference (Rodseth and Nordahl 2017). Maritime Unmanned Navigation through Intelligence in Networks (MUNIN) project of the European Commission, explained that, the autonomous ship is the application of advanced control and communication technology in the vessel which will provide the capability of operating the vessel remotely, semi autonomously or full autonomously (MUNIN 2016). The Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) stated the autonomous vessel as ‘Maritime Autonomous Surface Ship (MASS)’, which can be operated without any human interaction in a varying degree (IMO. MSC 99/22 [Internet]. 2018). The definition has not explained the operational procedure of ‘Maritime Autonomous Surface Ship’. Analyzing several projects and properties of the autonomous vessel, we can define that, the autonomous vessel is such vessel in which the application of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and IoT (Internet of Things) will enable the vessels to operate without any human interference in varying modes.

Operational properties of autonomous vessels

Human participation is not required in the autonomous vessel, for this reason, the total decision making is carried out by using the algorithm. Analyzing the situation, a vessel can avoid collision using the planning based on the developed set of electronic senses for machine learning. The algorithm plays a vital role in autonomous operation, acting as the human brain and eliminating human error during navigation. Throughout the voyage, the vessel must cope with several uncertain situations and casualties where seafarers apply their own knowledge with experiences to prevent the accident. The NYK project demonstrated the technical procedure in four steps- (1) Information Acquisition. (2) Analysis. (3) Planning. (4) Approval (Koji Kutsuna et al. 2018). The entire process can be conducted by AI or remote, as well as a mixture of both. Several sensor systems are required to distinguish the complex environment, such as unknown or unanticipated objects, lousy weather, and casualty risk. The project was designed in such a way to prevent the collusion, an autonomous control will be applied to prevent the collision. When the autonomous system fails to prevent the event, the system will request the remote operator and move to the ‘fail to safe’ step during the absence of the remote controller. The effective collision prevention procedure of the autonomy process can narrow down the importance of human attendance in safe navigation (PARTNER| MUNIN [INTERNET]. [CITED 2021 DEC 28]. available from:

The sensor system to detect the casualty is the main challenge of the autonomous concept. Electronic senses are required to develop for the electronic brain to ensure navigational safety and collision prevention. As per the AAWA (Advanced Autonomous Waterborne Applications Initiative), led by Rolls Royce, three significant areas for the Autonomous vessel are (Vtt 2016)-

Sensor fusion: The Sensor technology, which has remarkable application in the autonomous car, is developing for vessels also. AAWA project has explored different sensors to accumulate several pieces of information, such as radars, high-definition visual cameras, thermal imaging, and LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), which are essential to analyze the vessel’s surroundings in any event.

Control algorithms: In order to maintain safe navigation and prevent a collision at sea, the vessel needs to take appropriate action if the case exists or is in doubt. The decision algorithms which are applied for the machine learning need to be perfect and follow the ‘International Convention for prevention of collision at sea”. Due to this reason, algorithm development is the crucial and challenging part of the vessel.

Communication and connectivity: Adequate connection capacity for vessel monitoring and remote control is essential in the autonomous vessel. The ship sensors need to be enabled to establish proper connection with satellite and land-based systems.

Different types of autonomous vessel

The MASS can be operating at several degrees; during a single voyage, the vessel can operate under one or more degrees (IMO takes first steps to address autonomous ships [Internet]. 2021). The different project defines different degrees or types of the autonomous vessel. The Table 1 presents different autonomous vessel alternatives, reviewing different literature pieces.

Table 1 The degrees of autonomy

IMO has not emphasized the AI application solely, rather than the alternatives are on-based remote sensor programs more. However, the regulation for safe autonomous vessel navigation does not provide clear guidelines (Partner | MUNIN [Internet]. [cited 2021 Dec 28]. Available from: NYK and Rolls Royce developed similar autonomous criteria: Manned Autonomous, Remote Autonomous, and Unmanned Autonomous. For this study, we have combined the autonomous alternative of the MUNIN project and the Combined project to choose the appropriate autonomous modes for South-East Asian Routes. The following autonomous options are applied in MCDA-AHP method.

  1. 1.

    Manned autonomous: Where seafarers will be on board with autonomous equipment, and action will be taken manually. AI application will suggest decision making; onboard seafarers will execute and monitor the circumstances. No remote operation is required under such autonomous system.

  2. 2.

    Remotely controlled vessel: Under this alternative, all navigation operations will be performed via a remote-control mechanism

  3. 3.

    Autonomous and partially remote-controlled vessel: The vessel will be operated through remote control where AI applied equipment will be onboard.

  4. 4.

    4.Full autonomous vessel: The vessel will be artificially intelligent, and appraisal, planning, execution, and monitoring, the fundamental steps, will be conducted under the supervision of AI.

Autonomous vessel for South-East Asia’s route

The south-east Asian region is considered as the center of gravity for Indro-pacific connectivity as the geographical properties construct the connectivity network for the Indian and Pacific oceans routes (Wróbel et al. 2020).This region historically engaged in two types of maritime trade exchange: intra-Asian and intra-regional (Shimada 2019). In order to trade the products from the production area to nearby markets, local people created the network with transit ports and thus encouraged the foreign traders to enter this region in the beginning (Ota 2019). In the current stage, this region is also the center for exporting manufacture product trading, and geographical position enabled this area to be the connector of the foreign market (Ota 2019). In such a significant route, autonomous vessel implementation ensuring safe navigation can be challenging. The geographical location of the Southeast Asia region is strategically situated at the passage of the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea (Idris and Ramli 2018), where oceans and straits constructed one of the most influential global maritime routess (IMO takes first steps to address autonomous ships [Internet]. 2021).In the early fifth century, foreign traders established the international maritime route through the Malacca straight (Hall 2019). Generally, in the past, two factors acted behind the external trade exchange: a riverine political system and the supply of surplus products from Southeast Asian mainland and Java for the foreign trader (Kenneth 2019). The route was the part of the ancient silk road and now included in the twenty-first century’s silk road which begins from the Quanzhou in Fujian province, runs through Guangzhou, Beihai, and Haikou, following those heads to the south of the Malacca Straits and from the Kuala Lumpur goes towards Kolkata, India and after passing the Indian Ocean will move to Nairobi, Kenya, and the route will end at the land-based silk road in Venice after crossing the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea (Hong 2015). With the development of the Maritime Silk Road initiative, where Southeast Asia is one of the dominant regions, maritime traffic along the route increased significantly (Mou et al. 2021).On the other hand, Asian developed countries are accountable for the majority of world maritime trade; it is estimated that 76% of total maritime trade volume is loaded and unloaded in developing countries, and continuously the volume is increasing due to the growing container trade for the world’s factory boosting in intra-Asia, especially in South-east Asia (UNCTAD 2020). As per UNCTAD, 16 of the world’s top 20 container ports are located in Asia, and the positions are the same in 2018 and 2019 (UNCTAD 2020). Among them are Singapore ports, eight ports are from mainland China, one from Hongkong, and one is China. The report indicates that the south-east Asian ports welcome a large number of vessels for large volume shipment, thus resultant in dense traffic in the South-East Asian region. The maritime route of South-East Asia’s route included Sumatra strait, Malacca Strait, Singapore Strait, Taiwan Strait. Geographically the entire region is congested for navigation and witnesses several maritime casualties, due to this reason, navigation with special caution is necessary. However, the autonomous vessel has such potential which can reduce human error related accidents (Porathe et al. 2018). Human contribution and control system will be reformed in this vessel technology (Mallam et al. 2020). Comparing with the traditional vessel, the operation of autonomous vessel will have less human interference (Abilio Ramos et al. 2019).The application of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) can enhance the operational structure of vessel navigation and establish safety of navigation by eliminating human error and advance decision-making ability, which is important for moving in the South-East Asian region. On the other hand, the autonomous vessel is capable of bringing economic advantage in maritime business (Ziajka-Poznańska and Montewka 2021). Kreteschman L (2017) in his research conducted economic exploratory analysis on the autonomous and conventional bulk carrier, where he showed that the autonomous ship may has optimistic effect on the cost-effectiveness of shipping companies (Kretschmann et al. 2017). Akbar A (2021) stated that the autonomous vessel in short sea shipping can reduce the operating cost on average 11% (Akbar et al. 2021). The prediction of economic and safety benefits of the autonomous vessel put her at the center of concentration among the maritime business. The launching of the autonomous vessel in the South-East Asian region can provide safe and economic navigation in this important route.

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