New Technologies, Artificial Intelligence and Shipping law in the 21st Century

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Carrier liability for unmanned ships: Goodbye crew, hello liability?

Carrier liability for unmanned ships: Goodbye crew, hello liability?

Dr Frank Stevens

1 Introduction

In the early seventeenth century, a then common type of ship, the Venetian buss, was rapidly supplanted by another type, the cog. The reason? A buss required a crew of fifty, whereas a cog with the same carrying capacity had a crew of only twenty. In the eighteenth century, East Indiamen such as the Dutch Amsterdam 2 or the Swedish Götheborg 3 had crews of up to 200. Tea clippers such as the British Cutty Sark,4 with similar cargo carrying capacity but almost twice the sail area, had a crew of 18 to 28. The German Pamir,5 one of the last sailing cargo ships, with a much larger carrying capacity and a larger sail area than the Cutty Sark, had a crew of 22 on its 1949 voyage around Cape Horn (the last by a commercial sailing ship). The same evolution took place again in the age of motor vessels.6 In the 1950s, a general cargo vessel would have a crew of 50 or more. Today, even the largest bulkers and container vessels have crews of around 20.

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