Underwater Drones Regulations Still Lay Adrift (By Edwing Marval)

High tech equipment and devices have been developed in different fields; lately it just went into deep waters, through underwater vehicles split into two categories, Unmanned underwater vehicles (UUV), which is a non human driven, also known as ROV´s (Remotely Operated Vehicles) distance-controlled through an operator or pilot; the vehicle is connected to an umbilical cord transferring data collected from undersea to the peripherals, seen on displays on board of the survey ship or boat; there is also the Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUV´s), which do not need to be necessarily operated by human, however it has to be programmed accordingly to a determined survey range within the sweeping sea floor for exploring purposes. And there is a third sort of device known as Side Scan Sonar System (SSS), which is operated data cable-wired, as sonar is mostly used in today´s scanning devices and systems, and some animals such as bats, dolphins and sharks use sonar waves to hunt and path their ways; the SSSS is a tow fish provided with a wide range of search capability and ultra high resolution images for the detection of small object on the seafloor and even in shallow fluff. All these high technological equipment and devices are well known as Underwater Drones.

Recently it has been heard on the news words from UD´s (underwater drones) involving the U.S and China in an international law issue related to a seized UD in the Philippines coast by a Chinese warship, while it was collecting environmental data.

Perhaps, most of you saw one of these drones in Titanic Movie; the ROV is shown surveying the shipwreck in order to have a wider perspective.

Hereupon, many issues may arise regarding underwater drones in any of its categories either in in-water or overseas, as per domestic or international law governing such incidents, notwithstanding there is neither regulations nor Acts into force a legal regime ruling underwater drones around the world.

Speaking from the experience mirror, I can tell, in Lake Maracaibo Venezuela, back in the early twenty hundreds, there were plenty oilfield operations in which ROV´s and SSSS´s had been implemented and used for surveying lakebed as part of gas & oil pipe lay projects, Wells constructions, fixed platforms and stations set-up, drilling and work-over rigs and barges decommissioning and positioning. All these activities called for a specialized staff including skilled and experienced operators and pilots capable of operating both types of underwater drones, in which I took part of the project.

Lately, almost every field, naval, marine research, underwater engineering, construction, petroleum and gas to name a few, have developed a new key technological hurdle in the integration of Autonomous Underwater Vehicles required to carry out operations at depth in lakes, rivers, lagoons and open sea in any territorial water space.

Also offshore operations in oilfield and gas platforms have indeed required ROV´s for drilling support as the Subsea Blow-Out Preventer (SBOP) is at about a hundred meters depth or even more; becoming part of the operations equipment, it’s strictly necessary to have an ROV team on board monitoring the casing and BOP checking for leakage.

Naming a few of the activities and operations, which had been deployed and developed since a while back, there is still a huge gap breaching law and facts regarding underwater  drones, as long as it does not happen so far, sooner o later an underwater  drone governing law will claim into force, that´s why still remain adrift worldwide.

See you next time on a newsletter post plunging a bit deeper into underwater drone law knowledge.

By Edwing Marval
Venezuelan Maritime Lawyer.   

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