Saturday, January 19, 2013


Iranian ship flees detention in Sri Lanka

When is a State Owned Ship A Merchant ship? When Does A Coast Guard or navy have a Right of Hot Pursuit?

 An Iranian-flagged cargo ship has fled Sri Lanka's waters after weeks of detention..

File:USCG pursuing gofast boat.jpg
Official Coast Guard Photo by PA1 Donnnie Brzuskc of U.S. Coast Guard Hot Pursuit Training Exercise.

The Sri Lankan navy last week fired warning shots to prevent the MV Amina from leaving but said that late on Wednesday the vessel made its departure in rough seas. A Sri Lankan court had served process on the M/V Amina in accordance with the Hague Convention on International Service of Process on behalf of a German Court which had granted a writ of seizure to DVD Bank for payment of millions of dollars in debts. 

 The M/V Amina is managed by Rahbaran Omid Darya Ship Management, which the European Union and the United States maintain is a front for the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Line (IRISL) , Iran's biggest shipping line, which is facing Western sanctions for illegal arms transport. The Sri Lanken Navy attempted to enforce the arrest of the ship in accordance with International law even to the extent of chasing and firing warning shots at it when it broke the arrest and left port. However the Sri Lanken Navy stated that the ship made it outside of the 12 mile territorial sea of Sri Lanka and their interpretation of international law was that they had no further right of pursuit  since the ship did not break Sri Lanken national law. We find that a strange interpretation of international law. Surely contempt of a court order would be considered a violation of national law.  

 Regular readers will note that our attitude regarding this bank seizure of a ship is quite different from our attitude concerning the events surrounding the creditor seizure of Argentine Naval Ships in Ghana a few weeks ago. We see a vast difference. Naval ships have a history of immunity from seizure except as a prize of war since before the heyday of Rome. Naval vessels are considered sovereign mobile platforms of state as inviolate as sovereign territory.  Merchant ships by contrast are simply instruments of commerce that must enter and clear through the customs service of the port visited and obtain "pratique" or permission to hold communications with the shore in order to conduct business. Such ships at all times in all territorial waters of the port state are subject to all laws and regulations of the port state. 

 Iran based businesses, even if state owned, are required to pay their bills the same as any other commercial entity in the world. Failure to do so may result in seizure of assets and a commercial ship is simply a business asset. While we supported the right of the Argentine naval vessels to break out of arrest in Ghana , even if shooting was necessary that position was in conformance with black letter international law and thousands of years of traditional understanding of the rule of international law. Eventually a UN tribunal upheld the sovereign rights of Argentina and her naval vessels were released. By contrast in the instant case the merchant ship of Iran had no lawful right to break arrest in defiance of the Sir Lanken court. The Sri Lanken navy had every right of pursuit and to fire warning shots. But we maintain that the naval response was too weak. Breaking arrest in contempt of court is a violation of national law and the Navy had a right of hot pursuit out of her territorial waters and even a right at some point with due regard for humanitarian consideration to fire into the fleeing vessel in order to stop it. 

 We find that we are becoming increasingly alarmed at the the apparent less than cursory knowledge in international maritime law that has been exhibited by key maritime professionals of late in some of these well publicized incidents. Judges, Naval Officers, admiralty attorneys, customs officials, steam ship agents, and coast guards of late around the world have contributed stress to situations already of deep concern due to a lack of understanding of the enduring basic principals of international maritime law. When all maritime professionals and especially those involved with enforcement and compliance grasp the basic principals, mental red flags go up at appropriate times that generate research efforts to ascertain the correct course of action, rather than rash action or more often inaction in situations calling for the immediate practical application of maritime international law. We strongly suggest a professional reading program. For the English speaking world we minimally suggest:


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