Maritime Law in the News: DARPA Christens Unmanned, Autonomous Vessel


Yesterday, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), a sub-agency within the Department of Defense, christened an unmanned, automated vessel designed for use by the Navy. 1  This 130 foot “ACTUV prototype vessel” is capable of travelling thousands of miles without a crew. 2  Although Navy sailors will control the ACTUV’s mission and have the option of full control of the vessel if need be, the ACTUV is capable of self-navigation. 3  DARPA will begin “open-water testing” [of ACTUV] . . . conducted jointly with the Office of Naval Research (ONR).” 4  The thought of unmanned, self-navigated vessels roaming the world’s oceans may raise legal and policy concerns for some.  However, DARPA asserts that “[t]hrough at-sea testing on a surrogate vessel, ACTUV’s autonomy suite has proven capable of operating the ship in compliance with maritime laws and conventions for safe navigation—including International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, or COLREGS.” 5

For a detailed description and analysis of the legal pool that the ACTUV will inevitably be dipping in to, please see Ghost Ships: Why the Law Should Embrace Unmanned Vessel Technology by our very own Paul W. Pritchett (member, Volume 39). 6  Mr. Pritchett discusses the maritime issues raised by the advent of unmanned vessels including: piracy, collision/navigation rules, cargo damage, and more. 7  To view Mr. Pritchett’s Comment in full, please use the following links: WestLaw, LexisNexis, HeinOnline.  To order a physical copy of Volume 40:1, please go here.


For news coverage of the christening of the ACTUV, click on the following links:

The Washington Post


Popular Science




  2. Id.
  3. Id.
  4. Id.
  5. Id.
  6. 40 Tul. Mar. L.J. 197 (2015)
  7. Id.