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I’m On A Boat: What You Should Know About Maritime Laws

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On today’s Legal Brief – we are … On a Boat. 

It’s the perfect time to tell you about Maritime Law.

Each country has twelve miles of territorial waters where their laws apply to any ship in the region.  Within 12 miles of the U.S., you are in America and U.S. laws apply. 

Therefore, a baby born on a ship within 12 miles from shore to foreign parents would be an American citizen and also, indeed be … an anchor baby. 

What About International Waters and Cruise Ships?

While in international waters, more than 12 miles from shore, the laws of the country the ship is registered to apply, that’s why while you are on a cruise ship you can get away with things not allowed under U.S. law.  

Most of the big cruise ships fly Bahamian flags or are registered in Panama.  That’s why you can gamble on most of the big cruise ships – you are out 12 miles from shore and Bahamian law allows legal gambling. 

Do Formal Laws Apply in International Waters?

So, therefore, the only place in the world where no formal laws apply to you is while you are more than 12 miles away from land and not on a boat.  Jump in the water in the middle of the ocean and do ANYTHING you want.  ANYTHING – just like the Purge.

However, There Is an Exception.

One exception to this general rule is the crime of piracy.  Piracy has historically been considered such a serious offense – not only endangering the people being pirated but also endangering shipping lanes and trade between countries that it is considered an “enemy of humanity.”

Piracy, being an enemy of humanity, is one crime that police or military forces from any country can exercise jurisdiction over, anywhere in international waters. 

In 2009, an American ship was attacked by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean – the events of which was later made into a movie starring Tom Hanks.  Three of the pirates were killed and one was arrested by U.S. military personnel.

 The arrested pirate is currently being held in Indiana and the Somali government has no say due to an 18th century law which considered pirating “an enemy of humanity.”

 That’s it for today’s legal brief.  Ahoy Matey.

Jeremy Hogan
Jeremy Hogan
Attorney Jeremy Hogan is a partner at Hogan & Hogan.