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Report highlights unmanned ship cyber concerns

A new report from law firm Clyde & Co and the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science & Technology (IMarEST) has suggested that approximately two-thirds of 220 maritime industry executives surveyed (64 per cent) believe there is uncertainty surrounding liability issues relating to unmanned ships should a vessel be involved in an incident as a result of a cyber-attack.

{mprestriction ids="1,2"}“Technology is today advancing at an unprecedented rate and promises a host of new solutions for the maritime industry in terms of improved efficiency, safety and environmental performance. However, we should not be blinded by the benefits,” said David Loosley, chief executive, IMarEST.

“We must also remain alert to the potential risks. This joint research report examines these vulnerabilities and how they might be addressed and is an important starting point for the industry to begin preparing for the future.”

The majority of survey respondents, at 59 per cent, also agreed that there is confusion surrounding regulations with regard to collisions involving unmanned ships, while 68 per cent fear that unmanned ships present a greater cyber-security risk than traditional ships.

“Marine executives are right to be concerned about the potentially increased threat of cyber-attack as a result of the use of unmanned ships,” said Joe Walsh, partner at Clyde & Co.

“However, it is probably worth mentioning that the maritime industry as a whole has been criticised for being a bit slow in reacting to existing cyber threats, including fully crewed vessels, and that the biggest threat to any organisation’s cyber-security posture is still, in fact, human error.”

“It is therefore possible that a transition to unmanned ships might actually reduce an organisation’s profile and exposure to cyber risks. The cyber threat should certainly be taken seriously but it should not put the brakes on further exploration of the viability of unmanned ships.”

The report also highlights concerns in relation to the availability of insurance cover for unmanned ships, with four out of five survey respondents admitting to being unclear as to how insurers will approach the new technology.

Despite these wide-ranging issues however, approximately half (48 per cent) of those surveyed predicted that unmanned ships will be implemented in the next 10 to 15 years, even though nearly two thirds (63 per cent) believe that the industry is not at all prepared in terms of infrastructure requirements for these autonomous vessels.

In addition, half (51 per cent) of the respondents think that crews do not currently have the skill sets needed to operate and maintain unmanned ships.

“It’s clear there is plenty of work to be done but currently it is very much a chicken and egg situation,” said Mr Walsh.

“The marine industry desperately needs more clarity on the legal framework if they're going to invest in the infrastructure and skills needed to roll out unmanned shipping on a commercial level. Meanwhile, regulators are unlikely to invest much time in assessing technology that they don't think the industry is considering for widespread use.”

“Of course something will move eventually, so the organisations that are taking a proactive approach towards this new technology are likely to have a competitive advantage once the regulatory landscape becomes clearer.”

The full report can be accessed at https://www.imarest.org/events-courses/round-tables/technology-in-shipping {/mprestriction}

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