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Policy-oriented analysis on the navigational rights of unmanned merchant ships

Ling Zhu and Wangwang Xing

Maritime Policy & Management, 2022, vol. 49, issue 3, 447-462

Abstract: The emergence of unmanned merchant ships will challenge the existing international shipping law and practice. Many legal issues regarding unmanned ships under international law await clarification, and the issues involving navigational rights are at the top of the list. This article aims to examine the navigational rights of unmanned merchant ships under the established international regulatory framework for global shipping. We find that many States, particularly the coastal States, may hold a cautious view regarding the international navigation of unmanned ships, because of uncertainties in terms of safety and reliability, questions about seaworthiness and manning, and the potential ship-source pollution incidents. Hence, we make the following suggestions: first, the International Maritime Organization plays a more proactive role in interpreting and implementing the existing rules on international navigation. Second, that flag States, coastal States, port States collaborate and consider filling the existing regulatory gaps to facilitate the development of unmanned merchant ships and to justify their navigational rights.

Date: 2022
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DOI: 10.1080/03088839.2021.1914877

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