The development of semi-autonomous or autonomous vessels is still in its early stages, but as the market begins to explore adoption, it is clear that the legal and regulatory ramifications of such vessels require extensive clarification and this will be a strong determinant in the rate of adoption.
While many countries have adopted domestic laws to protect data, privacy
and national interests, the laws that apply to international shipping remain undeveloped.
Inaction or simply waiting on the sidelines for rules or requirements is clearly not a viable approach but what exactly is expected of a reasonably prudent shipowner?
Our survey findings indicate that while managing cyber risks is achievable, there is extensive confusion over liability and how insurers will treat unmanned ships. While flag states and classification societies are developing rules, a lack of consistency threatens further complications, and makes it difficult for shipping companies to set up their own internal approach to safety assurance. The commercial argument for unmanned operation also appears to be unclear. There will be savings in operational expenditure by stripping vessels of their crew however these savings must be weighed against new expenditures, for example, establishing
new shore based infrastructure or the additional ongoing expense of fewer but more highly qualified personnel to operate and maintain the new robotic tonnage. The 25-30 year lifespan of a commercial ship creates additional challenges. The problem of technology obsolescence is already an issue, and given the pace at which technology evolves compared to machinery systems and established vessel refurbishment intervals, this situation is likely to deteriorate before long-term remedial strategies can be found.
Joe Walsh, Clyde & Co, Long Beach
The legal framework does not support the introduction of autonomous technology and underwriters are ignoring the risks.
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