Autonomous Vessels: Can the Law of the Sea Cope?

Autonomous vessels: Can the law of the sea cope?

17 September 2018, Monday, 2.30pm-4.00pm
Lee Sheridan Conference Room
Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore
Level One, Eu Tong Sen Building 469G Bukit Timah Road
Singapore 259776

Participation is by invitation only.


The advent of autonomous technology promises a revolution in human and cargo transportation. This is no less true at sea. Nonetheless, the technology raises a series of questions for maritime lawyers. For example, under what circumstances do autonomous platforms count as ‘ships’ or ‘vessels’ for the purposes of, for example, passage rights through national waters? Do unmanned ships incur obligations under the Safety of Life at Sea Convention, and UNCLOS, to render assistance to mariners in distress? Are they capable of complying with the Regulations for the Prevention of Collisions at Sea? These questions are valid for merchant marine operators as well as for Navies. But Navies have a series of other legal issues to contend with. To what ends is it acceptable to employ unmanned or autonomous technology in the conduct of hostilities? Is the law of blockade and contraband, and other rules governing the interaction of belligerent warships with merchant vessels, up to the challenge of autonomous platforms?


Cdr James Farrant is the Logistics Commander of HMS ALBION and an international lawyer for the UK Royal Navy. He has advised on autonomous weapons in the context of UN CCW negotiations, and has been a member of the UK’s Maritime Autonomous Systems Regulatory Working Group. In this presentation, he aims to bring to life the issues that autonomous technology presents for legal advisers.

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