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BIMCO prepares to publish contract for autonomous ship operation

The Yara Birkeland is expected to be the world’s first autonomous and electric container vessel. Image courtesy of Kongsberg and Yara. The Yara Birkeland is expected to be the world’s first autonomous and electric container vessel. Image courtesy of Kongsberg and Yara.

BIMCO has announced that its currently used SHIPMAN 2009 agreement for use with autonomous ships is being adapted and adjusted, with the first version expected for publication in 2021.

{mprestriction ids="1,2"} For autonomous ships to operate within the industry’s existing commercial framework, standard contracts will be needed. According to BIMCO, these will not be charter parties, at least not to begin with, because autonomous ships are being built to serve on dedicated trades for their entire working life.

In a statement released by BIMCO, it says that the companies ordering the first generation of autonomous ships are in most cases not maritime companies but instead users of shipping transportation services. BIMCO expects to see the first autonomous ships being operated by third party ship managers.

BIMCO’s response is the development of a specially adapted version of its widely used SHIPMAN 2009 agreement.

Based on current forecasts, by late 2021 the first generation of cargo-carrying autonomous ships will be operating within the territorial waters of some countries. Those ships will most likely have a crew on board initially from launch but will quickly transition to being operated from a remote control centre. Full autonomous ships operating independently of even a remote control centre may yet be many years away. But technology is developing rapidly and what was once thought of as science fiction is now well within our grasp.

Currently, there are no autonomous ships currently in operation. Many of the provisions of the new agreement are based on assumptions and expectations.

In publishing the updated contract, BIMCO is supported by three ship management firms – Wilhelmsen; Anglo Eastern and NYK LNG Shipmanagement – all of whom are working on autonomous ship projects – together with valuable input on the insurance and liability aspects from ITIC and Gard and with legal advice provided by HFW.

AUTOSHIPMAN is due for publication next year. As greater knowledge is gained on autonomous ships, AUTOSHIPMAN will be adapted to meet the needs of this emerging technology. {/mprestriction}

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