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Autonomous ships: Challenges to managing legal risks in voyage charterparties

Esu, R. (2024). Autonomous ships: Challenges to managing legal risks in voyage charterparties. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City, University of London)


The introduction of technology presents legal issues. This trickles down from wider, overarching policy considerations to contractual arrangements between private interests. Autonomous shipping is recognised as no exemption to this. This is the premise for this thesis, which focuses on the liability issues autonomous shipping presents to voyage charters.

Party interests is fundamental. If an agreement is not capable of promoting and protecting interests, then it might not be seen as a worthwhile venture. On this premise, this thesis carves out a piece of the contractual framework to consider i.e., voyage charterparties. It focuses on the how autonomous ships might affect the contractual obligations owed in voyage charters, with a view to managing the liability issues presented.

The obligations considered are seaworthiness, care for cargo and deviation. The absence or reduction of an onboard crew would necessitate the parties considering how these obligations should be met. This is because the legal rules that underpin these obligations have developed on the premise of a crew being on board the vessel. Traditionally, this has been a central element in the determination of liability. The research questions reflect these legal considerations. They aim to discuss how liability should be defined and determined between the parties to a voyage charter. The central research question is: Given the technical nuances of Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS), how should the traditional shipowner-charterer dynamic evolve? This question branches out to narrower, and specific issues of liability in the context seaworthiness, care for cargo and deviation, where the liability questions they present are discussed. All of this is done in an effort to comprehend how the law relating to charterparties should be utilised to address the legal issues autonomous ships pose to voyage charters.

This thesis aims to show that a clearer theoretical conception of how risks are to be allocated where non-human agency is involved in shipping would help resolve the challenges of liability. This hopes to be an improvement from the current thinking which is largely based on the juxtaposition of traditional rules with the practical limitations autonomous shipping present.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HE Transportation and Communications
K Law
Departments: The City Law School > The City Law School Doctoral Theses
Doctoral Theses
[thumbnail of Esu thesis 2024.pdf] Text - Accepted Version
This document is not freely accessible until 31 March 2027 due to copyright restrictions.


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