Centre for Commercial Law


Launch of UCL Autonomous Shipping project

25 January 2021

The UCL Autonomous Shipping research project will explore how autonomous vessels can be incorporated into the legal landscape in order to foster their use in goods carriage.

Dr Melis Özdel, the director of the UCL Centre for Commercial Law, is the project leader. Olivia Tolson is assisting as project editor and the members of the research team, which brings together legal academics, lawyers and policy groups, are:

  • Sir Richard Aikens, Brick Court Chambers
  • Richard Lord QC, Brick Court Chambers
  • David Baker, International Group of Protection and Indemnity Clubs
  • David Bolomini, International Group of Protection and Indemnity Clubs
  • Kiran Khosla, International Chamber of Shipping
  • Saskia Daggett, UK Maritime and Costguard Agency

More information about the members can be found here.

Autonomous vessels are an emerging technology, but their use will inevitably cause a tension with traditional rules of law. Therefore, the project’s main purpose is to assess how autonomous vessels can be incorporated into the legal landscape. In doing so, the following points will be considered:

  • the shortcomings in the current legal landscape at national and international levels;
  • the regulatory changes that can be introduced to govern cargo claims arising from the carriage of goods by autonomous vessels;
  • and the barriers to proposed regulatory changes at national and international levels.

The conclusions reached will be particularly meaningful because there is no existing framework governing the carriage of goods by autonomous vessels. The UK Government plans to legislate in this area, as set out in its Maritime 2050 strategic ambitions, and when it does it is important that an evidence-based approach is followed.

However, there is currently very little academic research on the carriage of goods by autonomous vessels so the UCL Autonomous Shipping project will help to fill this gap in the literature and inform the UK’s regulatory response. Autonomous shipping will soon become a reality and an effective regulatory framework can help ensure the UK maintains its role as a leading maritime nation and its commitment to the adoption of emerging technologies.

The project has a website which it is hoped will help stimulate open debate and produce public engagement with this topical research. To help fulfil these aims, UCL Autonomous Shipping is currently running an essay competition for UCL students and also welcomes article submissions from external writers.

Any queries regarding the project are welcome and can be directed to autonomous.shipping@ucl.ac.uk.