American Admiralty Books Safety & Privacy Policies EU VISITORS WARNING POSSIBLE COOKIES AHEADMERCHANT SHIPS:
To maintain law and order on the high seas, international law requires that every ship plying the oceans have a nationality. The law of the flag state applies aboard. As ships approach a coastal state's areas of legitimate jurisdiction the demands for verification of nationality increase in frequency and detail. To be accorded recognition as a properly flagged ship, the flagging process must meet certain requirements. There must be a genuine link between the flag state and the ship. This link need not be that the crew consists of nationals of the flag state, but the officers and crew should be licensed and certified by the flag state. The flag state must exercise jurisdiction effectively in such areas as manning requirements, safety equipment, ship sanitation and health and similar matters. The flag state must provide the ship with documents proving her nationality. This is usually referred to as a "registry".
A ship may have only one registry at a time and may not change flags during a voyage or while in port except in the case of a bonafide change of ownership or registry. a ship possessing two registries or changing flags at her convenience is considered under international law to be a stateless ship and pirate suspect. Ships employed by international organizations may show both the organization flag and their national flag.
Once a merchant ship enters port she is completely subject to the law of the host state. A merchant ship, even a state-owned merchant ship (carrying cargo for hire and entering and clearing through customs) does not enjoy the privileges and immunities of a warship or non-commercial public vessel.
However, as a result of the practical necessities of shipping, a number of customary and enduring rules have evolved with respect to the exercise of jurisdiction over visiting merchant ships by local authorities. Generally local authorities leave to the ship's master and the flag state all matters of internal discipline so long as peace in the port is not affected. Sometimes this custom is codified between regular trading partners by consular convention. Pursuant to this customary practice, port states generally will not interfere with detention in custody of a merchant seaman aboard a merchant vessel for disciplinary infractions so long as the conditions of detention are humane and the detention is lawful under the laws of the port state.
Merchant ships have no ability to facilitate asylum. Should a merchant ship enter a port with a fugitive from the port state aboard, port state authorities have every right to board and take custody of the fugitive.
TO BE CONTINUED: NEXT THE INTERNATIONAL LAW OF PERSONS