Cybersecurity and readiness to adopt new technology are among prime concerns holding back the development of unmanned vessels according to a report by solicitors Clyde & Co and the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science & Technology (IMarEST).
A survey of 220 marine executives found a lack of clarity around collisions involving unmanned ships, with 59% of survey respondents agreeing there is confusion surrounding regulations in this area. Almost two thirds (64%) believe there is uncertainty regarding insurance and liability should an umanned vessel be involved in an incident caused by a cyber-attack.
“Technology is advancing at an unprecedented rate and promises a host of new solutions for the maritime industry in terms of improved efficiency, safety and environmental performance. However, we should not be blinded by the benefits,” said David Loosley, CEO, IMarEST. “This joint research report examines these vulnerabilities and how they might be addressed and is an important starting point for the industry to begin preparing for the future.”
International shipping law states that vessels must be properly crewed, which means that unmanned ships are not presently permitted to enter international waters. However, the IMO announced in June that it would begin to consider updating SOLAS to allow cargo ships with no captain or crew to travel between countries.
“The present state of SOLAS and collision avoidance regulations are being overtaken by and holding back potentially industry-changing technology from being developed and implemented,” said Joe Walsh, partner, Clyde & Co. “Fortunately, the IMO and other industry interests appear to have recognised that there is a real appetite to test the water with unmanned ships at a commercial level. Industry will quickly need some legal clarity around cyber liability and collision regulations before any ground-breaking progress can be made.”
Over two thirds (68%) of respondents fear that unmanned ships present a greater cyber-security risk than traditional ships. Another key issue is the availability of insurance cover for unmanned ships. Four of every five (80%) survey respondents think it is unclear how insurers will approach the new technology.
The infrastructure and crew skills required for autonomous ships are also lacking, respondents noted, with 63% and 51% respectively registering concerns. Almost half (48%) of respondents believe unmanned ships will be operating within the next 10-15 years.