Lloyd's Maritime and Commercial Law Quarterly
BOOK REVIEW – ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE AND AUTONOMOUS SHIPPING: Developing the International Legal Framework
Edited by Barış Soyer, Professor of Commercial and Maritime Law and Director, and Andrew Tettenborn, Professor of Commercial Law, Institute of International and Trade Law, Swansea University. Hart, Oxford (2021) xxxv and 183 pp, plus 10 pp Index. Hardback £76.50.
For many years the Institute of International Shipping and Trade Law (IISTL) at Swansea University has organised a series of annual colloquia bringing together academics and practitioners from the UK and abroad to address and thrash out topics of interest and concern, and in turn to publish the papers delivered. The current collection is similar but different, comprising a series of articles mainly by members of IISTL. It deals with a highly topical live concern, the legal issues concerning maritime autonomous surface ships (MASSs). The implications of MASSs will clearly be important for future maritime law, albeit it is too early to predict with confidence exactly how things will develop. However, at least, the debate will be better informed.
Part I of the book deals with MASSs in the context of the existing legal farework, with contributions by Simon Baughen and Andrew Tettenborn on international regulation of shipping and unmanned vessels, Youri van Logchem on international law of the sea and autonomous cargo “vessels”, Barış Soyer and Andrew Tettenborn on autonomous ships and private law issues, then Simon Baughen on unmanned vessels and international Conventions for the carriage of goods by sea. Part II turns to new legal issues emerging and insurance. George Leloudas considers cyber risks, autonomous operations and risk perceptions, asking whether a new liability paradigm is required. Roderick Bagshaw (of Magdalen College, Oxford) discusses product liability and autonomous ships. Then Peter MacDonald Eggers QC looks at the marine insurance response to risks involving MASSs. In Part III, the way forward, Barış Soyer considers the regulatory challenge in the future of autonomous shipping.
As we are reminded, autonomous craft operating at sea are not a novelty. But any reader who thinks issues relating to them may be tucked into existing law is disabused from the beginning of the book, the first chapter effectively containing a list for the IMO of contents of international Conventions that, in the future absence of masters and crew, are missing, or liable to amendment or potentially superfluous. Even though there may be an absence of humans at sea, there are legal provisions that have grown on the assumption that humans are involved, such as issues of fault or the (admittedly now muted) notions of personal service in salvage law that have to be applied, disapplied or reconsidered in assessing what the modern law is or should be. And these are not mere technicalities, for insurers may respond to uncertainties by raising premiums to levels which impede modernisation of shipping for the future. Furthermore, given the international basis of much maritime law, internationally negotiated revision of treaties will often be necessary to embrace the relevant issues. Recent experiences with the Rotterdam Rules indicates that that is neither easy nor necessarily likely to be successful, either comprehensively or for individual subjects. Perhaps the best that can currently be said is that, with books such as this, the issues can be identified with some rigour and stakeholders can be aware both of what issues need to be considered and of how they may be resolved.
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