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Cyber liability and lack of regulation hindering implementation of unmanned ships

Cyber liability and lack of regulation hindering implementation of unmanned ships

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Almost two thirds (64%) of global marine industry executives believe there is uncertainty surrounding liability issues relating to unmanned ships should a vessel be involved in an incident as a result of a cyber-attack, according to a new report from global law firm Clyde & Co and the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science & Technology (IMarEST).

A survey of 220 marine industry executives from across the world also found that there is a lack of clarity around collisions involving unmanned ships, with 59% of survey respondents agreeing there is confusion surrounding the regulations in this area.

David Loosley, chief executive of IMarEST, said: “Technology is today advancing at an unprecedented rate and promises a host of new solutions for the maritime industry in terms of improved efficiency, safety and environmental performance. However, we should not be blinded by the benefits. We must also remain alert to the potential risks. This joint research report examines these vulnerabilities and how they might be addressed and is an important starting point for the industry to begin preparing for the future.”

Clyde & Co explained that current international shipping law states that vessels must be properly crewed, which means that unmanned ships are not presently permitted to enter international waters.

However, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) announced in June of this year that it would begin to consider updating the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) to allow cargo ships with no captain or crew to travel between countries.

The Comité Maritime International (CMI) has also this year established a Working Group on ‘Maritime law for unmanned craft’ to consider how international conventions and regulations can be adapted to provide for the operation of unmanned vessels on the high seas.

Joe Walsh, a partner at Clyde & Co, commented: “The present state of SOLAS and collision avoidance regulations are being over taken by and holding back potentially industry-changing technology from being developed and implemented. Fortunately, the IMO, CMI and other industry interests appear to have recognised that there is a real appetite to test the water with unmanned ships at a commercial level. Industry will quickly need some legal clarity around cyber liability and collision regulations before any ground-breaking progress can be made.”

Over two thirds (68%) of survey respondents fear that unmanned ships present a greater cyber-security risk than traditional ships.

Uncertainty surrounding insurance

The report finds that another key issue is the availability of insurance cover for unmanned ships. Four of every five (80%) survey respondents think it is unclear how insurers will approach the new technology.

Other key findings from the survey include the statistic that nearly two thirds (63%) believe that the industry is not at all prepared in terms of infrastructure requirements for unmanned ships.

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Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.

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