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CAN A REMOTELY-OPERATED UNDERWATER VEHICLE (ROV) BE ARRESTED?

Lloyd's Maritime and Commercial Law Quarterly

CAN A REMOTELY-OPERATED UNDERWATER VEHICLE (ROV) BE ARRESTED?

Luci Carey*

The Seaeye Leopard
The development of autonomous and unmanned ships raises complex questions as to how maritime law and admiralty jurisdiction apply to such vehicles. The fundamental issue whether an unmanned, remotely-operated underwater vehicle (“ROV”) is a “ship”, and thus allowed to be arrested in an admiralty action in rem, was recently considered by the Australian Federal Court in Guardian Offshore AU Pty Ltd v Saab Seaeye Leopard 1702 Remotely Operated Vehicle Lately on Board the Ship Offshore Guardian (The Seaeye Leopard).1 The court held that this particular ROV was not a ship for the purpose of the Admiralty Act 1988 (Cth) and set aside its arrest warrant.2

Facts

Ford Commercial Diving Solutions Pty Ltd (“FCDS”) possessed two ROVs3 used for subsea surveying, inspection, repair and maintenance of subsea pipelines. A launch and recovery system (LARS) lowers the ROV into the water from the main vessel. Once the ROV is at the desired depth, it remains tethered while a pilot on board the main vessel manoeuvres it away from the LARS.

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