Autonomous Ships - Legal Issues

The interest in autonomous ships has grown exponentially in the past few years. Only five or so years ago, the prospect of unmanned and autonomous vessels sailing on the seas was not considered to be realistic, while now the debate centers on when and in what format and pace the development will take place. Law has a key role to play in this development and legal obstacles are often singled out as principal barriers to a rapid introduction of new technologies in this field. In a few years autonomous ships has turned from a non-issue to one of the main regulatory topics being addressed at the International Maritime Organization (IMO), but the discussion is still in its infancy.


Increased reliance on automation for tasks that have traditionally been undertaken by ships' crews raises interesting legal question across the whole spectrum of maritime law. From the law of the sea and IMO Conventions, which are crucial for enabling autonomy to be introduced in the first place, to essentially any aspect of private maritime law, including transport contracts, collision, salvage and marine insurance, the development will entail fundamental alterations to current practices.


Wednesday 12 June

9.00 -9.15

    Morning coffee & tea is served




Welcome & introductory words

Henrik Ringbom, Trond Solvang &  Erik Røsæg


Law of the sea issues


Balancing interests of flag, coastal and port state for autonomous ships

Alla Pozdnakova, Professor, Scandinavian Institute of Maritime Law, University of Oslo, Norway



UNCLOS, jurisdiction and choice of law in an autonomous shipping context

Kristina Siig, Professor, University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark



       Coffee break


IMO issues


The on-going Regulatory Scoping Exercise and outlooks for the future

Henrik Ringbom, Professor II, Scandinavian Institute of Maritime Law, University of Oslo, Norway



Switching off regulatory requirements in relation to highly automated vessels:

Flag state exemptions as a tool to facilitate experiments

Frank Smeele, Professor, Erasmus University, Rotterdam, The Netherlands





Liability issues


Shipowner’s liability for damage caused by an unmanned ship under the Nordic maritime codes

Felix Collin, PhD Candidate, Faculty of Law, University of Turku, Finland



Man, machine and culpa - some reflections

Trond Solvang, Professor, Scandinavian Institute of Maritime Law, University of Oslo, Norway



Diabolus ex machina

Erik Røsæg, Professor, Scandinavian Institute of Maritime Law, University of Oslo



       Coffee break


15.00- 15.30

Autonomous ships – from shipowner liability to producer’s liability in a Scandinavian perspective

Vibe Ulfbeck, Professor, Director of Centre for Enterprise Liability, University of Copenhagen, Denmark


Contract issues


Seaworthiness and good seamanship in the age of unmanned vessels

Frank Stevens, Assistant Professor, Erasmus University, Rotterdam, The Netherlands



The possible effects of degrees of autonomy in traditional chartering business - a discussion based upon some of the clauses in well known standard forms

Thor Falkanger, Professor Emeritus, Scandinavian Institute of Maritime Law, University of Oslo, Norway



  Dinner at Restaurant Annen etage


Thursday 13 June

Insurance issues


Insurance of autonomous ships – what are the challenges?

Trine-Lise Wilhelmsen, Hans Jacob Bull, Professors Scandinavian Institute of Maritime Law, University of Oslo, Norway




P&I perspectives

Tim Howse, Vice President, Industry Liaison, Gard P&I Club, London




       Coffee break




Insuring robots

Mika Viljanen, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Turku, Finland




From Sail, Steam to the Cyber Era—How Traditional the English Marine Insurance Law and Covers Are?

Meixian Song, Lecturer in Law, School of Law, University of Southampton, UK







Specific issues


Manning unmanned ships

Johan Schelin, Professor of Maritime Law, Stockholm University




Coastal authorities and concerns/opportunities linked to autonomous ships

Matti Eronen, Legal Councel, Finnish Transport Agency, PhD Candidate, University of Turku, Finland




Legal aspects of smart ports


Eric van Hooydonk, Port Law Professor, University of Ghent, Belgium



Concluding remarks


Concluding remarks

Henrik Ringbom, Trond Solvang &  Erik Røsæg




Not attending, but contributing to the book:


  • Martin Davies, Admiralty Law Institute Professor of Maritime Law, Director, Maritime Law Center, University of Tulane, US, Pilotage and automated ships
  • Hannu Honka, Professor Emeritus, Åbo Akademi University, Turku, Finland: Autonomous ships and seaworthiness in the carriage of goods by sea
  • Robert Veal, Lecturer in Law, Institute of Maritime Law, University of Southampton, UK: Autonomous technology in shipping: a new dawn for products liability


Tags: Autonomous ships
Published May 23, 2019 12:56 PM - Last modified June 12, 2019 8:24 AM