Towards the assessment of potential impact of unmanned vessels on maritime transportation safety

Krzysztof Wróbel*, Jakub Montewka, Pentti Kujala

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

94 Citations (Scopus)
375 Downloads (Pure)


The prototypes of unmanned merchant vessels are expected to come into service within the coming years. The main line of argument supporting their introduction pertains to the increase in navigational safety, which is expected to be achieved by reducing the frequency of human-related accidents on board ships, by removing the crews. On the other hand, the response of unmanned ship to potential accidents is still uncertain. With enthusiasm on one side and apprehension on the other, the literature lacks an objective study on the effect of unmanned ships on safety of maritime transportation. This paper constitutes an attempt to bridge the aforementioned gap by applying a framework based on what-if analysis to a hundred maritime accident reports. The aim of the analysis is to assess whether the accident would have happened if the ship had been unmanned, and once the accident had happened - would its consequences have been different. The results obtained reveal that the occurrence of navigational accidents (e.g. collision, grounding) can be expected to decrease with the development of unmanned ship. However the extent of consequences resulting particularly from non-navigational accidents (e.g. fire, ship loss due to structural failure) can be expected to be much larger for the unmanned ships when compared to the conventional ones.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)155-169
Number of pages15
JournalReliability Engineering and System Safety
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2017
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Autonomous vehicles
  • Hazard analysis
  • Maritime accidents
  • Maritime safety
  • Resilience engineering
  • Unmanned ships


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