Autonomous Ships and the Law

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Chapter 9

Autonomous ships and product liability under the EU directive

Vibe Ulfbeck

1 Introduction

The development of automated and autonomous ships1 is expected to increase security at sea. The basic reason for this is that the number of accidents that are due to human errors will be reduced, since human involvement in the running of ships will be decreased. The move now being foreseen from human driven to technologically driven ships poses new challenges and questions, with regard to the application of liability principles in the maritime sector. As will be described in the following sections, maritime liability regimes are basically structured around notions of fault based liability. This reflects the historically central role played by humans in the running of ships and the consequential focus on human errors as forming the basis of liability. However, given the move toward automation, an increased focus on the liability for technical defects must be anticipated. This brings into play liability regimes that have traditionally been less used in the maritime area. One of these liability regimes is product liability. It is the purpose of this chapter to examine the implications of product liability rules in the maritime area, seen in light of the automation of ships.

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