Legal Challenges - BIMCO Bulletin

Central to change

TECHNOLOGY & EFFICIENCY | legal CHallengeS in aUtoMation November 2017 Legal challenges in an automated environment By Michael Grey, BIMCOs correspondent in London W Michael Grey is BIMCOs correspondent in London. He is a former editor of Lloyds List and a regular contributor to many maritime publications. Michael Grey Scrubbers, ballast water systems, the analysis of exhaust gases, even the number of barnacles on the bottom, are all now subject to inspection and somebodys critical and perhaps legal oversight Photo: Danny Cornelissen at www.portpictures.nl e have had degrees of automation for a very long time. Automatic steering (the Iron Mike) first went to sea in 1919, the radio auto-alarm appearing as a result of the loss of the Titanic. The first Unmanned Machinery Space certificates were issued in the 1960s, radar was rapidly implemented, as it produced genuine operational benefits in poor weather. It was approached with some caution, after the radar assisted collision was recognised as a worrying trend. We gradually embraced the use of satellites for navigation and much else besides; ECDIS, AIS and computer assistance of every kind. But it is worth noting that few of these advances turned out to be accident-free and many have required a degree of legal interpretation. Direct legal challenges from automation might include the difficulties of getting to grips with the equipment which effectively takes over and which relegates the on-board expertise of the officer of the watch to a sort of overlooker or monitor, called upon to intervene only if the computer goes wrong, which it probably rarely does. It is idle to pretend that such a human being will be as alert as one who was navigating or keeping an engine room watch in the traditional fashion. Those whose vigilance might have been found lacking in such circumstances have been described as complacent in accident reports, while their disengagement as a result of all their electronic and automatic assistance might be a better description. On the other hand, technology, after something has gone wrong, is a lot more able to find out why it happened, thanks to the facility of VDR (vessel data recording) and the objective analysis it can provide. Sophisticated and automated equipment now onboard ships must be up for the job and in good working order. Other major challenges involving the law might be expected to revolve around the increase in the amount of sophisticated and automated equipment that is now mandatorily put aboard ships and must be maintained in a working condition, if a ship is not to be judged unseaworthy, or denied a charter. And even if the equipment is not demanded by conventions or the flag state, charterers may reject a ship on the strength of something that is non-operational. Scrubbers, ballast water systems, the analysis of exhaust gases, even the number of barnacles on the bottom, are all now subject to inspection and somebodys critical and perhaps legal oversight. Direct legal challenges from automation might include the difficulties of getting to grips with the equipment which effectively takes over and which relegates the on-board expertise of the officer of the watch to a sort of overlooker Technical redundancy will be an ongoing challenge for ship operators, with possibly legal implications. It might be asked whether those who provide the equipment, or perhaps those responsible for software support functions, are to assume any long term responsibility for their products. Might product liability law have to be marinised? With the availability of brilliant communications, better sensors and the onset of Big Data, we have seen a number of operators sub-contracting the oversight and maintenance of their machinery during the life of the ship or engine. We might ask about the role of the ships chief engineer and his responsibilities and what the legal rights of the two parties might be. Similarly, there are both passenger and cargo liner companies which are establishing shore operational centres, providing 24/7 oversight of their ships and advice to their masters. Are we seeing here a sort of covert transfer of the masters responsibilities and authority here, and how will this play in the legal framework as it develops? Who is the real master of a ship thus being effectively driven from the shore? These, and other technology-related problems are likely to find their way into a developing body of law as the age of autonomy emerges. Connect with BIMCO Facebook Twitter Linkedin YouTube