Understanding the role of remote control centres – their status, potential liability and difficulties in regulation
This project considered the legal and regulatory barriers to remote-controlled and autonomous shipping in UK waters.
For autonomous ship operations to become a commercial reality, several regulatory and liability issues need first to be overcome. In terms of regulation, the current regulatory framework does not adequately address at least some vital aspects of autonomous operations. In particular, the current regulatory framework largely ignores those permanently ashore.
There are also unanswered questions around both the criminal and civil liability of those on board the ships and those in the remote control centres.
The work focused on two key areas:
- to elaborate the scope of any new legal framework that may need to be put in place to ensure the safe operation of such vessels through SCCs; and
- to define the legal position of seafarers on board such ships, and those in remote control centres.
The primary objective of this study was to highlight the regulatory and legal challenges that need to be addressed so that maritime autonomous surface ships (MASSs) can operate in UK territorial waters without complication.
For the purposes of this study, three assumptions were made about the hypothetical vessel:
- it will navigate from Hull to Plymouth staying entirely within UK territorial waters
- it is registered in the UK
- it will have a varying degree of autonomy (i.e. it will be mainly controlled remotely, from Swansea but will have autonomous navigation/operation-capability which will be activated in some cases)
The project concludes that it will be within the remit of different regulatory bodies to deal with the legal and regulatory challenges ahead. For example, the Marine and Coastguard Agency (MCA) is expected to provide regulatory solutions to issues concerning the safety and technological requirements of MASSs. Port and harbour authorities need to specify the conditions that a MASS should comply with to gain access into areas that come under their jurisdiction. There is also a requirement to deal with issues concerning pilotage by competent harbour authorities. The team also conclude that legislative changes are needed to clarify matters concerning liability (collision liability and product liability), limitation of liability, salvage, cargo claims and arrest of MASSs as well as to deal with criminal law issues that might emerge.
The team published "Remote-controlled and autonomous shipping" in January 2022. This report focuses on legal and regulatory barriers to remote-controlled and autonomous shipping in UK waters.