Testing International Legal Regimes: The Advent of Automated Commercial Vessels

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International Law of the Sea, International Maritime Law, International Maritime Organization, Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships, Unmanned Ships


International shipping is on the eve of a new era where remotely controlled and partially or fully automated and unmanned Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) will be carrying international trade. The regulation of navigation and shipping in the contemporary international law of the sea and international maritime law are premised on human presence and control on-board ships. Provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 1982 and several maritime conventions will need to be revisited to determine how MASS may be accommodated and, where not possible, what further legal development may be needed. Recently, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) decided to address the expected regulatory impacts of these ships and to prepare an agenda for their proactive regulation. This article explores regulatory impacts that would need to be considered and argues that MASS have the potential to provide new directions for international law and the IMO.