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Unmanned Ships Could Necessitate Updates to Maritime Regulations

As technology continues to advance, the ability to automate many processes is becoming the wave of the future. Flying drones are already prevalent in many industries and the use of driverless cars seems to be on the verge of a breakthrough. In the maritime industry, unmanned vessels are now on the horizon. While unmanned vessels have many advantages, their introduction may necessitate re-thinking many standard maritime laws and regulations.

What Maritime Laws & Regulations Would Need to Be Changed?

A recent study that is set to be published in the Journal of International Maritime Law analyzed current regulations to identify those that may need updating to conform to unmanned vessels.

Its most important finding is that under current maritime law, unmanned vessels would still qualify as "ships." This means that most international regulations would still apply to unmanned vessels.

Law of the Flag

However, there are several areas of law that may need to be addressed – most notably the international regulations known as the Law of the Flag. The Law of the Flag governs the relationship between the ship, the crewmembers, and the flag that the ship is flying. International law requires there to be a genuine link between the ship and the flag. However, in the instance of unmanned vessels that are absent any crewmembers, this law would necessitate reconsideration.

Laws Governing Crew

Additionally, laws that govern the master and crew would be irrelevant to unmanned vessels. The legal status and responsibilities of the "pilot" and traffic controller would have to be reconsidered as well.

Stricter Data Recorder Regulations

Even manned ships carry data recorders that are regulated and controlled by maritime law, but those regulations would likely need to be made stricter for unmanned vessels. The study concludes that current maritime law is mostly well-equipped to handle unmanned ships, though minor changes may need to be re-considered.

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