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Is a ROV a ship?

Can a remote operated vehicle be arrested, or in other words can in rem jurisdiction be invoked against a ROV? Yes, if it is deemed to be a ship. Whether a certain craft is a ship depends on the language of the statute in question. In the case of Guardian offshore v Saab [2020] it was the Admiralty Act of Australia.

A ROV is a submersible equipment, a vehicle for undertaking remotely-controlled activities underwater. When deployed it forms part of the eq. of the mother vessel. Claimants placed reliance on a Canadian decision where an unmanned submersible device used in logging trees was said to be a ship.

As per the court, ROV lacked usual characteristics of a ship and ROV is not the means by which navigation could be carried out. Although it could pick up and move items, those capacities are not comparable to the navigation of cargo or passengers. Moreover, the ROV was unable to leave the jurisdiction by its own effort and evade claims. As for the Canadian decision, the definition of a ship in their statute was broader than in Aus.

Worth a mention - in the past, across various jurisdictions following have been held not to be ships - a gas light, jet ski, flying boat, and a floating crane; whereas a rigid inflatable boat and a dumb barge were said to be ships.

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