Lloyd's Maritime and Commercial Law Quarterly

Maritime Autonomous Surface Ship (MASS) and the Salvage Convention 1989: Distinct operations requiring distinct treatment

Mayank Suri*

This paper discusses the relationship between Maritime Autonomous Surface Ship (MASS) and articles of the International Convention on Salvage 1989. The premise of the paper is that crewless operations require distinct treatment under the law of salvage. This premise is tested with reference to existing case law and articles in the Salvage Convention. It is argued that, if the operations of MASS substantially reduce the likelihood of accidents and risks associated with shipping operations, the factors for determining salvage rewards need to be revisited. It is also debated whether the present policy considerations underlying the Salvage Convention are fit to continue to apply to MASS in light of the social-political-economic changes since 1989.


In a Report in 2017, which preceded its Scoping Exercise in 2021, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) concluded that Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) should be safe, secure and environmentally sound.1 Thereafter, the IMO embarked on an exercise to develop the regulatory framework for MASS2 on the

* Assistant Professor, Jindal Global Law School, India, and Research Fellow, Centre for Maritime Law, National University of Singapore, Singapore. The normal disclaimer applies.The following abbreviations are used:Berlingieri: F Berlingieri, The Travaux Préparatoires of the 1989 Salvage Convention (Comité Maritime International 2003);DNV AS: DNV AS, Class Guideline: Autonomous and Remotely Operated Ships (DNV-CG-0264, September 2021) 19 https://rules.dnv.com/docs/pdf/DNV/CG/2021-09/DNV-CG-0264.pdf;DPA: Designated Person Ashore;MASS: Maritime Autonomous Surface Ship(s);MRC: minimum risk condition;RCC: remote-control centre;Salvage Convention: International Convention on Salvage 1989;Scoping Exercise: see infra, fn.1;Shaw: H Shaw, Independent Review into the Potential for Delays in the Contracting and Engagement of Salvage Services in Marine Casualties (July 2022).
1. IMO, Report of the Maritime Safety Committee on its Ninety-Eighth Session (MSC 98/23, 28 June 2017), para.20.1. See also IMO, Outcome of The Regulatory Scoping Exercise and gap analysis of conventions emanating from the Legal Committee with respect to Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) (LEG.1/Circ.11, 15 December 2021) (the “Scoping Exercise”), para.3.1.
2. IMO, Autonomous Shipping https://www.imo.org/en/MediaCentre/HotTopics/Pages/Autonomous-shipping.aspx. Unless otherwise stated, a reference to MASS is reference to a Maritime Autonomous Surface Ship without crew on board, ie, “Degree Four” of the level of autonomy recognised by the IMO. The context in which the references to MASS are being employed is the carriage of goods (of all sorts) in international trade.

Mass and the salvage convention 1989


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