With the expanding commercial potential of emerging maritime technologies, the race for building autonomous vessels has already taken off.

A number of projects are currently under way in various parts of the world to develop the systems and technology for the commercial operation of such vessels in international waters.

Autonomous vessels are part of our future. As the maritime trade witnesses further developments in this field, there will be an inevitable struggle to harmonise the new technology vessels with the traditional rules of law.

The technological developments in sea transport have always brought the need for an international regulatory framework that reflects a commercially oriented process.

Before a wholesale shift to autonomous vessels, efforts to have an international convention acceptable to all players in the shipping industry will remain high on the agenda.

Undoubtedly, with these technological advances and explorations our understanding of maritime operations and management will gradually change in the years to come.

The question that we now face is how the law can best provide certainty for the commercial use of new technology vessels without putting a brake on further progress in the field.

Our research project is a major step towards reforming the current legal landscape for the commercial use of autonomous vessels.

It seeks to offer a holistic answer to the question of reallocation of the risks in sea carriage, considering all the relevant legal, technical and industrial dimensions.

Its main purpose is to identify and assess the extent to which autonomous vessels can be incorporated into the existing legal landscape;

  • the shortcomings in the current legal landscape at national and international levels;
  • the regulatory changes that can be introduced to govern cargo claims arising from the carriage of goods by autonomous vessels;
  • and the barriers to proposed regulatory changes at the national and international levels.

This is a collaborative research activity, involving key stakeholders, national and international policy working groups, in the shipping sector.

This website has been created as part of our research project

  1. to facilitate a two-way exchange of knowledge and ideas between all stakeholders (legal and professional services, academia, national and international policy working groups and shipping industry) and
  2. to disseminate the findings of our research team.

With this website, we aim to make the outcomes of our world-leading and cutting-edge research available online to reach the widest possible audience, thereby starting an important debate for shaping the future of shipping.

This website is also a forum for those engaged in maritime law and policy to provide expert analyses and commentaries. We welcome commentaries on legal developments in this field as well as theoretical and practical analyses of the issues related to the carriage of goods by autonomous vessels.

All submissions and enquiries should be sent by email to autonomous.shipping@ucl.ac.uk.

The editor has the right to decide which submissions should be published on the website. Follow the link to read our blog.

The views and opinions expressed in the blog belong solely to the authors and do not in any circumstances represent the views of the institutions referred to in the ‘About’ section.