Navigating Jurisdiction and International Law

I’ve written in a previous post about why you probably shouldn’t get a boat and I’ve listed about a million reasons why you shouldn’t, but I feel I need to list just one more of many more to come, except this one is a very significant one. Here goes…

Sailing all around the world is a lot of fun and don’t get me wrong, all the challenges you face along the way only serve to add to all the fun, but if you don’t know what you’re doing then you can find yourself in a lot of trouble which could have been very easily avoided. I’m talking about legal trouble since people tend to think the imaginary maritime borders marking the thresholds leading into international waters mean you can suddenly do whatever it is you want without legal recourse. The truth is yes, there are probably very few (if any) eyes to police you deep out at sea, but that doesn’t mean lawlessness is the order of the day.

There’s a reason why boat owners hoist the flags of their native countries on their boats, part of which reason signifies their adherence to the laws of their native country which govern their conduct while their out at sea. The same applies for mega cruise ships – in fact with the major cruise liners of this world, they explicitly state that their passengers are to conduct themselves according to the laws of the country in which the cruise liner is registered, with any criminal offenses on board to be prosecuted according to the laws in which the cruise liner is headquartered. Often this refers to drug-related issues, a very contentious issue among those passengers who tend to use the likes of medical marijuana legally in their home countries.

In many instances, when crossing state lines different laws apply, so for example as much as someone may be allowed to use what are otherwise recreational drugs for medical reasons, taking those drugs designated for medical use across international boundaries is considered to be smuggling and is criminally punishable by law. It wouldn’t matter if there are medical advantages or even if you could argue the benefits of hemp, if you cross international borders where the drug in question is illegal, you will be breaking the law, the substances with be confiscated and you might end up being brought to justice by the countries legal system.

So you could be just sailing passed a certain country and then come into contact with some waters making up part of that country’s jurisdiction, in which case the laws of that country automatically apply to you and to your vessel, something which all too often lands lots of sailors in hot water. To avoid any complications, you may need to stay up-to-date with the latest news about international maritime laws and rights.

There could also be a chance that the two countries may have a history of overlapping water boundaries, in which case, you need to first obtain the information regarding any negotiations underway before setting out to travel through those areas. It could be better explained by taking an example of Vietnam-Indonesia EEZ claims where both countries agreed on using separate measurements for their continental shelf and island median line. That means the EEZ agreement upholds UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) to assert their respective sovereign international maritime rights and enforce maritime interests. Laws on the sea can be really complicated to understand; however, you can easily get permission from countries that you will sail across when traveling by sea.

Navigating jurisdiction and international law can really be quite tricky, but it’s not an impossible element of one’s around-the-world travels to plan for accordingly. That’s exactly what you need to do, make sure you comply with the local laws of any country whose waters you’re entering, eliminating any potential to break those laws by default.

Generally once you enter a certain country’s territory, the local laws take precedence over those of your native country, so you should always make use of local lawyers should you need legal assistance, with the likes of Christensen & Hymas naturally making for a law firm you’d use if you ever found yourself in Utah, for example.

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