The developing “Maritime Cloud” is a communication framework enabling efficient, secure, reliable and seamless electronic information exchange between authorized maritime stakeholders. A fully operational Maritime Cloud will have significant cost-saving benefits for vessel owners and operators in both blue and brown water. However, the legal implications of the Maritime Cloud should not be overlooked or underestimated.
The Maritime Cloud is not a storage cloud containing information, nor is it a specific communication link, it is predominantly software. The Maritime Cloud will enable automatic exchange of information between qualified maritime parties and will enhance navigation, safety and security at sea, and protection of the marine environment.
The automatic transmission of real time information will fundamentally change maritime navigation. A fully functioning Maritime Cloud will enable voyage optimization by automatically transmitting real time data about weather, currents, piracy and traffic. With information that assists in avoiding foul weather, heavy traffic, congestion at docks, or piracy, the Maritime Cloud will improve crew welfare and safety. The equipment required for vessels will be minimized such that existing vessels will be able to readily install the limited hardware needed to transmit and receive data.
International collaboration between government entities, research universities, and non-governmental organizations has enabled the development of infrastructure and software to effectuate the Maritime Cloud in numerous test beds, including those in the Baltic Sea, Korea, and San Diego, California.
The Maritime Cloud could expose vessel owners and operators to new sources of liability. One example of a potential cause for liability would be the transmission of inaccurate information to the Maritime Cloud which is relied upon by another vessel to its detriment. Alternatively, liability could arise based on ignoring information received from the Maritime Cloud if consideration of that information would have prevented damage to a vessel or cargo, injury to crew, or environmental harm. The United States has yet to promulgate any regulations in this area. Should technology advance more quickly than the law, courts will be left to establish common law addressing the legal implications of this pivotal burgeoning technology.
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