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Norway has signed agreement which ensures international cooperation on the operation of autonomous ships


Norway has signed an agreement with the United Kingdom, Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands to facilitate cooperation on the international operation of autonomous ships. The agreement is particularly aimed at the operation of autonomous ships in the North Sea basin, including ships for inspection and maintenance of existing and future offshore wind installations.

On 10 May 2024, the Norwegian Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries announced that the agreement has been signed. The agreement aims to simplify the operation of autonomous vessels by ensuring their safe operation within the respective national requirements and frameworks of each signatory nation.

The countries that have signed the agreement commit themselves to exchanging knowledge and information about national activities and following a common approach to international autonomous operations where appropriate.

The agreement concerns cooperation on the development of requirements for autonomous ships operating in the North Sea basin, that is, outside national waters, so that the countries can agree on common technical standards and solutions for the ships while waiting for global regulations.

Although most autonomous projects have been aimed at vessels in national traffic within territorial waters, there are now several ongoing projects considering market opportunities in the North Sea basin. The development is particularly driven by existing and expected developments in offshore wind and the development of vessels and operating concepts for inspection and maintenance of these. The agreement can contribute to establishing a new international market for the Norwegian maritime industry.

The agreement is based on existing guidelines from the UN's maritime organization, IMO, and the EU. IMO has initiated a process to develop non-binding rules for autonomous cargo ships. These are expected to be finalized by 2025. Norway is actively participating in this work.

The Norwegian maritime industry is at the forefront of developing autonomous solutions, both from a technical, regulatory, operational and legal side.

Wikborg Rein have been involved in several autonomous vessel projects. We have also previously written an article on some of the legal issues arising: Autonomous ships in unchartered waters

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Herman Steen
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Oddbjørn Slinning
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Andreas Fjærvoll-Larsen
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Sindre Slettevold
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