Autonomous Vessels: Legal, Regulatory, and Insurance Issues

Mainbrace (November 2019 - No. 3)

The maritime industry is currently experiencing a ­technological sea change resulting from the development of advanced automation on unmanned surface vessels. Once thought to be decades away from incorporation into the maritime transportation network, advanced automation is already emerging as a viable alternative for some segments of the industry as a way to reduce operational costs, improve safety, and increase efficiency. This new and disruptive technology, however, brings with it unique legal, regulatory, and insurance questions—the answers to which have been elusive. 

The Legal Landscape 
Over the past five years, many jurisdictions in the United States have implemented regulations governing the use of unmanned aircraft and drones. As a result, there have been more than 50 cases in the United States involving unmanned aircraft operations. During the same period, however, except for cases involving unmanned barges, there have been no cases in the United States referring to unmanned surface/subsurface ships or vehicles. 

This article by Alan M. Weigel and Thomas H. Belknap, partners at Blank Rome, is one in a series of articles written for Blank Rome Maritime's quarterly Mainbrace newsletter. To view the other articles in the November 2019 edition of Mainbrace, please click here.