British Ports Association and Setfords Solicitors Publish New Report on Opportunities for UK Ports from Autonomous Shipping

The British Ports Association (BPA) is today publishing a report authored by Setfords Solicitors on Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (“MASS”) and the challenges and opportunities for UK ports. Coastal shipping could be one of the first parts of the UK maritime sector to embrace autonomous shipping and the BPA is encouraging ports to consider the implications on their operations. The report which has been produced as part of the BPA’s Port Futures initiative, makes a number of recommendations for ports interested in leading in this fast-emerging area, including smaller ports who could benefit early from autonomous or semi-autonomous coastal shipping and feeder traffic. There are also recommendations for Government in reviewing UK legislation and regulations to ensure they are up to date and flexible to accommodate new technological opportunities.

Published at the beginning of ‘Maritime UK Week’, the report sets out the opportunities for UK ports in preparing for new MASS and the BPA will be sending it to the UK’s Department for Transport for consideration as part of its Maritime 2050 initiative. Initially MASS are most likely to be used for short sea and coastal traffic. This could be within UK and Irish domestic, territorial and inland waters for potentially UK-flagged and registered merchant ships/cargo ships. The primary reason for this is that it will probably take some while for the IMO’s regulatory review to be completed, and the legal and regulatory framework of a single nation state (such as the UK and the Republic of Ireland) will move rather more quickly than the international maritime community.

Some of the challenges will be in the areas of operations and management, safety, security, cyber security and breakdowns in communication systems. There will also be alterations needed to quays for berthing. The opportunities for ports can be seen in terms of increased port jobs in the port services industry requiring high levels of technical skill by shore based operators and back up service providers. So too, a re-assessment of costs and payment for this new market, possibly having an impact on harbour dues and other commercial agreements.

The report also makes some recommendations for harbour authorities, including reviewing harbour byelaws to check they could accommodate MASS.

CLICK HERE TO READ THE REPORT

Richard Ballantyne, Chief Executive of the British Ports Association, said:

“Autonomous ships could soon be a more common feature of domestic and global trade. UK ports have the chance to grasp the opportunity to lead the world in accommodating this change. This development could initially be in the short sea coastal shipping sector and the UK’s wide selection of ports will have an important role to play when this takes off in British waters. As a commercially-led, independent industry that currently has £1.7bn of planned infrastructure investment in the pipeline, we hope this report brings home what policy makers and business leaders can start to consider now to ensure that UK ports are leading the world in this innovative area.”

Andrew Higgs, Commercial Dispute Resolution, Insurance and Legal Risk Management Consultant at Setfords and co-author of the report, said:

“Automation is coming to all sectors of transportation within ports and is part of an evolution in transport, with the advent of automated or driverless cars, trucking and terminals. Both Government and industry need to start thinking about how these changes will affect trade and logistics of tomorrow. Ports in particular should start factoring in the needs of another type of customer; the customer that operates autonomous or semi-autonomous ships.”

Susan Macpherson, Senior Consultant Solicitor at Setfords and co-author of the report, said:

“We are suggesting an early review of Harbour Regulations to take account of the prospect of harbours receiving semi autonomous and fully autonomous ships in the future. This would ensure that the UK regulatory environment is one that is welcoming for innovative new technologies which will bring new jobs to the UK’s thriving maritime economy as well as the potential environmental benefits of moving more freight by water.”

The BPA Port Futures Programme

The Port Futures Programme was launched by the British Ports Association in 2018 to examine emerging trends in the ports and shipping industries which will lead to short and longer term changes in the ports industry. This rolling programme of activity will address key issues for ports over the next 50 years, including technology, infrastructure and skills, as well as potential opportunities for and challenges to British ports that these issues present. Projects are grouped around four key drivers of change:• Technology & Automation;

• Climate Change and the Environment;
• Politics, Regulation and the Law; and
• Social and Economic change

Notes
1. The British Ports Association represents the interests of over 100 port members, covering more than 350 ports, terminal operators and port facilities.
2. ‘Maritime UK Week’ (10-16 September 2018) is being coordinated by the umbrella group Maritime UK and is an opportunity to shine a spotlight on the maritime sector, its role and future. The week includes a number of events and announcements, covering the breadth of the British maritime sector, from all parts of the UK.
3. Maritime 2050 is the Department for Transport’s long term strategy to consider the future of the UK maritime sector up to 2050. It includes a number of themes including autonomous vessels and infrastructure.
4. The UK ports industry plays a key role in the country’s economy as 95% of the UK’s international trade – imports and exports – is carried through British ports.
5. UK ports also handle more than 60 million international and domestic passenger journeys each year.
6. The UK port industry is the second largest in Europe, handling around 500 million tonnes of freight each year.
7. UK ports directly employ around 101,000 people.
8. The British Ports Association recently produced a video which highlights the importance of ports to the UK’s economy. It can be viewed by clicking here.

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