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Shipbuilding was once the art of transforming hundreds of hectares of oak forests into hulls. Master carpentry moved to iron and then steel hulls, and now we are on the cusp of the next shipbuilding revolution, where autonomous, 3D-printed, graphene-made, LNG-powered vessels will be built by specialized suppliers with white-coats and augmented reality smart-glasses.
This article is concerned with one possible risk which arrives from outer space and can cause chaos in international maritime commerce: solar storms.
In ancient times, we bowed to oracles that interpreted the rustling of oak-leaves, the flights of birds or the murmuring of the waters from a sacred spring. Nowadays, corporations resort to the latest state-of-the-art techniques of ‘data science’.
When a vessel is drifting without control and its crew abandons it after making a mayday call, there is an intuitive judicial presumption that the vessel is in danger. Nevertheless, this presumption is rebuttable, allowing for evidence to the contrary to be presented. For the contrary evidence to be accepted, it is necessary to evaluate the entire circumstances of the case to accurately assess the point at which the situation can be classified as “salvage” rather than “emergency towing”.
Transferring the control of a vessel to an artificial intelligence operating system or converting the vessel to operate via remote control gives rise to legal problems that can only be tackled from an international perspective.
You have most certainly heard of it before and have probably had enough of it. The pre-fix “cyber” is ubiquitous. It all began with “Neuromancer” by William Gibson, although it is unlikely that you have read it and it is of little concern to you. However, you will not be able to remain carefree for much longer - unless you have decided to go back in time to rely solely on a wind sail. However, as you have not, you cannot be immune to the cyber risks of navigation.
Together with the traditional navigation risks (the so-called risks of the high seas), nowadays merchants and insurers have to worry about the emergence of a new category of risks that arise from maritime navigation; risks that arise from the increasing dependence on the use of silicon chips in black boxes.