Rise of the Machines – Legal analysis of Seaworthiness in the context of autonomous shipping

University essay from Lunds universitet/Juridiska institutionen; Lunds universitet/Juridiska fakulteten

Abstract: In recent years, technological developments have been the focal point of the discussion in the shipping industry. The two main topics have been a general discussion on IT security and a discussion about autonomous ships. Concerning IT security, the discussion has been focused on the industry's knowledge in the field and preparedness for any attacks or mishaps that can affect companies that are heavily dependent on IT technology. The majority of participants in the discussions agree that the shipping industry has fallen behind concerning IT security, why it has become so is unclear. One possible explanation may be that the industry has not been put under pressure on these issues before. Previously, much of the administration has been done with paper, but with an ever-increasing transition to digital systems, the industry has become increasingly put at risk. Both industry organisations and IMO have in recent years presented guidelines and increased requirements for IT security. Historically, the shipping industry has emphasized the physical safety of both ship and crew. In today's era, greater demands are being placed on protecting the organization against digital threats. This can also include physical protection for IT facilities and communication and navigation systems. The discussion on autonomous ships has mainly been focused on three themes, which legal barriers exist, which technical obstacles exist to implement the transition to autonomous ships and what are the advantages with autonomous ships compared to conventional. The advantages that mainly have been put forward as support of autonomous ships concerns the economy and the environment and safety. The economic advantage for autonomous ships are reduced costs for crew and the possibility of carrying an increased cargo load when the need for crew-related spaces vanishes. However, these reduced costs can be offset by the need for several back-up system when there no longer is any human crew on board who can rectify any errors. One suggested possibility is for autonomous ships to use an approach called "slow steam", which means that the ship travel at a slower speed than it has the capacity for. This would result in a cut of the cost of fuel, since the ship does not consume as much fuel, and a saving in CO2 emissions. However, travel at a reduced speed is not something specific for autonomous ships, since all ships can reduce its speed. Also, if the ship has a human crew, the potentials for any savings is lower, as the longer journey results in increased wage for the crew. The third argument for autonomous ships is that with a greater degree of automation, safety should increase since the number of accidents and incidents would diminish. The reason behind this argument is that there is a widespread notion within the shipping industry that the so-called human factor are behind up to 96% of the accidents in the maritime industry. However, this idea seems to be based on reports and investigations concerning accidents that happened between about 30-50 years ago. Since then e.g. The ISM code has been adopted and there are reports from recent years that indicate that the human factor is significantly lower, 58% The paper addresses a number of definitions of autonomous ships launched in recent years, including initiatives from the research sector, the maritime industry, the IMO. Furthermore, a selection of projects focused on autonomous ships, both pure research projects and projects that resulted in the construction of autonomous ships, is presented. The essay has examined whether autonomous ships, according to existing legal frameworks, can be regarded as ships or not. The conclusion that can be drawn is that the significant international conventions in the field and the British legislation that have been examined do not pose any significant obstacles. There are some uncertainties regarding staffing requirements, but since autonomous ships in international shipping probably still are a few years away, there is time to address these ambiguities. The thesis also examines whether there are any obstacles to autonomous ships concerning seaworthiness, the relevant conventions in the area and the British legislation are examined. One of the main aspects of the thesis is whether the definition of seaworthiness will be affected by the introduction of autonomous ships, and especially with regard to cyber security. A difference likely change the concept of seaworthiness is that it will stretch far beyond the ship itself and its immediate physical form. Communication systems that handle the data flow between the ship and land based control stations and satellites must be protected. The land-based control stations may be considered as part of the ship, which means that the requirements for these are subject to the same requirements imposed on the ship. There will be increasing demands on the organization, not only to prevent but also to manage and mitigate the consequences of e.g. IT system intrusion. There is no established practice in the area, as legal issues related to IT security have not been subject to judicial review. The thesis has to a certain degree examined to what extent settled case law concerning technical issues could be used as guidance for IT-related issues.

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