A framework to model the STPA hierarchical control structure of an autonomous ship

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The demand for risk and safety analysis is becoming greater due to the increased complexity of modern systems such as autonomous ships. Safety is one of the main motivations behind the efforts of multiple organizations to develop autonomous ships. The adoption of an early system-theoretic approach to safety such as System Theoretic Process Analysis (STPA) is an effective way to integrate safety in complex systems. Furthermore, many authors have urged the use of this method to analyse the risks of autonomous vessels in the development phases. Applying STPA requires a description of the system to model the hierarchical control structure and conduct the analysis. At this stage, the functional description of autonomous ships remains limited, which poses a challenge in building the hierarchical control structure. This paper proposes a framework for developing a hierarchical control structure of an autonomous ship. The framework is founded on the principles of the STPA control structure and its five main elements. It makes use of the current shipping operation system, the available information about autonomous ships and the experience of seafarers executing diverse tasks on-board conventional ships. The application of the framework showed that the information provided by the seafarers is essential in developing an initial functional description of an autonomous ship. Furthermore, the results revealed that in addition to the technical aspects of autonomous ships, introducing these vessels into the organizational control structure of current maritime operation also poses challenges that need to be addressed in the earliest design phase.
Original languageEnglish
Article number104939
Number of pages15
JournalSafety Science
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Autonomous ship
  • Autonomous Navigation System
  • Maritime Safety
  • System safety engineering
  • STPA

Field of art

  • Design


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