The Future is Now

The rise of Unmanned Maritime Systems (UMS) is unprecedented as the rapid development of automatic and autonomous technologies are integrated into a range of platforms for both civilian and military applications. Currently, the level of technology and systems in development are outpacing international law. This is causing a reevaluation of even basic definitions as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the “Constitution of the Ocean”, does not provide a concrete definition of a “ship” or “vessel”, despite referring to these terms over 350 times.

In order to help tackle these questions, the Centre of Excellence for Operations in Confined and Shallow Waters (COE CSW), in cooperation with the US Naval War College (US NWC), hosted a workshop on the “Legal Aspects of Unmanned Maritime Systems (UMS)” in Rome, Italy from 19-21 June. 38 participants from 17 nations from around the world joined the three-day intense workshop from a range of organizations to include multiple ministries of defense, maritime consulting firms, NATO COEs, the United Nations International Maritime Organization (UN IMO), academia, navies, coast guards as well as the NATO CMRE.

The workshop provided a forum for exchanging national perspectives and discussions on topics ranging from the applicability of international safety standards to the litany of definitions applicable to UMS. The participants also explored practical avenues for how state practice and international consensus can contribute to the development of customary international law. The workshop concluded with a list of recommendations for States in an effort to contribute to national policy development as well as the further clarification and development of international law.

The COE CSW will be publishing Chatham-House based proceedings and is working to further advance this field.

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