Regulation of underwater drones
The scientific and technological advances of marine, civil and military engineering have enabled the develop-ment of the underwater drones or UUVs (Unmanned Underwater Vehicles) industry.
Unlike air drones, i.e. civil aircraft piloted by remote control, UUVs do not have their own regulation and they have attracted less attention from the media, despite their increasing use in tasks such as mapmaking, surveying, maritime rescue and the fight against marine pollution.
From a legal standpoint, in view of the variety of characteristics which these vehicles can have, it is not surprising that the legal status of UUVs is not clearly defined.
Being subject to Maritime Shipping Law 14/2014, of July 24, 2014, many of these drones do not fit comfortably in the definition of “ship” (which would require them to have the ability to navigate by sea and to transport persons or things) or of “naval artifact”, which would require the robot to be located in a fixed point in the water.
Also, although some UUVs act like static underwater buoys, they cannot be included within the category of “fixed platform” used in the Maritime Shipping Law, because they are not permanently fastened to the sea floor.
However, despite not being expressly regulated, these vehicles operate in the sea and, consequently, are exposed to risks derived from their marine activity, and they can be the object of legal relationships just like ships and naval artifacts. All of this makes it necessary to expressly regulate the use of UUVs.
From the point of view of risks, the Maritime Shipping Law establishes that maritime insurance can be used to cover any legitimate economic interests exposed to maritime shipping risks, which would at least include UUVs capable of moving and “navigating” autonomously or by remote control.
In practice, for years, the London-based Lloyds has been using adapted policies to cover marine, submarine and offshore equipment, providing coverage to these vehicles against both the specific risks of their maritime activity and also risks derived from their transport, storage and handling.
In summary, this is a growing market in which new opportunities may be found.
Garrigues Maritime and Transportation Department