Remotely operated vehicles, usually known as drones, exist (their first prototypes) since the end of last decade of the thirties. However, it has been last years technological development and its use with war purposes what has dragged them into the spotlight of enterprises, governments and the society.

The truth is that the fact of being able to control these vehicles remotely is an added value, as they can be employed in works that would be risky or dangerous for humans. And we must not just think about war situations, because for instance, underwater robots can reach depths that humans cannot due to their physiological characteristics and this allows to explore areas that hadn’t been explored until today.

To name a few utilities, these vehicles are very popular for tasks such as mapping, survey, vigilance, maritime rescue, prevention and fight against marine pollution (including detection and sealing of fuel leaks), security and defense as well as other oceanographic activities. It goes without saying that it is a developing industry that will create new workplaces in the next years and will generate millions of euros.

Particularly notable is that unlike other of their aerial equivalents, which have been subjected to specific regulations and about which it is known that the State Air Security Agency (AESA) will publish a new regulation during the first six months of this year, marine and underwater drones do not have its own regulation and have gone unnoticed until now.

As Markus Gómez Dabic, senior associate in the Litigation Department of the Garrigues legal firm in Madrid, “it is extremetely difficult to establish a single legal framework for vehicles which differ from one another in their features, designs, size and usage. In this way, on the one hand, we can find the usually known as ROV (Remotely-operated Underwater Vehicles), which are controlled remotely  by a human, and on the other hand, there are AUV (Autonomous Underwater Vehicles), which operate in an autonomous way. There are also classifications that distinguish between MOU (Mobile Offshore Units) and UMS (Unmanned Maritime System), which sometimes allow to transport people and things. Finally, differences can be appreciated between these vehicles attending to their displacement capacity, volume, design and buoyancy”.

It is precisely that huge variety of characteristics of these vehicles what makes so difficult to legislate on them. Including from a legal perspective, it is complicated that they fit neither within the meaning of “vessel”, nor within the one of “naval device” which is legally stipulated by the Shipping Act. They cannot neither´be included under the concept of “fixed platform”.

However, Gómez points out, “these vehicles operate in the sea and are exposed to risks derived from their maritime activity (boardings, breakdowns, etc.), if it is or not related to navegation itself and can be subjected to legal obligations expected from vessels and naval devices, such as sales and building contracts  or the liability regime derived from damages caused by marine pollution. All this generates the necessity of regulating specifically the usage of these vehicles.”

It stands out that from the point of view of risks, and even though the Shipping Act does not include specifically this type of vehicles among insured interests within maritime coverage. The law itself foresees that any rightful patrimonial interests exposed to the risks of maritime navigation, what will include underwater unmanned vehicles (UUV), or at least, those which are able to displace and navigate in an autonomous way or by remote control.

In short, market of marine and underwater robots is very specific. Consequently, Garrigues expert recommends “that operators of this type of vehicles  count on specialised agents, brokers and counselors who know the particularities of the activity and the characteristics of the UUV face to represent the interests of the operator and obtain an adequate coverage at reasonable cost.”

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