More than forty thousand merchant ships, and countless number of smaller coastal craft, ply world oceans which comprise nearly seventy percent of the earth’s surface. Each year approximately ten million containers of cargo, containing raw materials to finished goods are transported by seas. The ships are owned by different states, private companies or individuals and manned by mixture of seafarers from different countries, mixed together from various nationalities. These ships are perhaps the most autonomous entities on earth as rule of law allows frequent change of their allegiance or identity by choosing a flag to suit their requirement.
Although merchant ships spend most of their lifetime outside the territorial waters, the current international maritime legal regime is ironically revolved around nationality of the vessel. Every vessel engaged in international trade must register in a country and is subjected to the regulatory control of that country whose flag it flies as per the existing international maritime law. Resultantly, any country has the right to allow a vessel to fly its national flag and to therefore bestow its nationality upon that vessel. When a vessel owner registers a vessel with a nation, the owner agrees to abide by that nation’s law and regulations of that ‘flag state’ in return for protection and the right of its vessel to be of that sovereign state. A system commonly known as “Flags of Convenience” (FOC) has developed, in which commercial vessels register in countries with “open registries” and consequently the ships contain practically no link at all to the flag states in which they are registered.
Freedom of the “High Seas” and the International Legal Regime
Early as the Roman Empire...
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Deirdre M. Warner-Kramer & Krista Canty, Stateless Fishing Vessels: The Current International Regime and a New Approach, (2000).
H. Edwin Anderson, III, The Nationality of Ships and Flags of Convenience: Economics, Politics, and Alternatives, (1996).
Jeremy Firestone & James Corbett, Combating Terrorism in the Environmental Trenches: Responding to Terrorism: Maritime Transportation: A Third Way for Port and Environmental Security.
Edwin Anderson, The Nationality of Ships and Flags of Convenience: Economics, Politics, and Alternatives.
United Nations Convention the Law of the Sea http://www.cfr.org/international-law/united-nations convention-law-sea/p16396
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of US Dept of Commerce web site, http://www.gc.noaa.gov/gcil_glossary.html
John E. Noves, International Law of the Sea, http://www.jstor.org/stable/40707349
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