Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships in International Law: New Challenges for the Regulation of International Navigation and Shipping

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS), Remotely Operated Ships, Commercial Shipping, International Maritime Conventions


In 2017 the International Maritime Organization (IMO)’s Maritime Safety Committee included a scoping exercise on Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) in its work agenda. The MASS concept includes commercial vessels that may be fully or partially automated and includes crewless but remotely operated ships. The technologies that make this possible are on the horizon and expected to be developed and operationalized soon. Given that the appropriate crewing of vessels is a requirement in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, 1982, International Convention on Safety of Life at Sea, 1974 and other international maritime conventions, it is unclear at this time how these new technologies will be accommodated by the existing legal frameworks and the changes needed, as well as what is desirable from a social responsibility perspective. This presentation will explore the legal issues and discuss how existing rules could be adapted through interpretation or amendment to accommodate MASS.