Operating Unmanned Surface Vessels at Sea: Is International Law Ready for the Future?



Publication Details

Morrison, A. & Kaye, S. (2017). Operating Unmanned Surface Vessels at Sea: Is International Law Ready for the Future?. In M. H. Nordquist, J. Norton. Moore & R. Long (Eds.), Legal Order in the World’s Oceans: UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (pp. 424-449). Leiden: Brill.


Much of the law applicable to maritime regulation and enforcement was developed early in the 201h Century, at a time when the technology available to assist in regula­tion and enforcement of maritime zones was very basic. Since these times technol­ogy has advanced considerably, with the availability of a variety of means to surveil and enforce a State's maritime jurisdiction that did not exist at the time the law was being developed. While in some cases technology has been embraced within regula­tory structures, such as the use of Vessel Monitoring Systems (vMs) within some Re­gional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMos), and the adoption of Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) within maritime security measures for some commercial shipping, it is by no means the case in all circumstances. Most maritime enforcement is still undertaken by manned vessels physically present to detect violations, but the advent of unmanned surface vessels may make this no longer necessary. However, the use of such technology may be problematic under national and international law. This paper will consider how technology is outpacing the law, and where there may be op­portunities for reconsidering the applicable law.

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