Ship Registration: Law and Practice

Page 27


The legal requirements of ship registration

Freedom of States to fix conditions for registration

3.1 On 1 December 1873, President Ulysses S. Grant, in his fifth annual message to the Senate and House of Representatives, considered the appropriate treatment of vessels registered by a flag State while on the high seas. He described the steamer Virginius that in September 1870 had been duly registered at the port of New York as a part of the commercial marine of the United States and received the certificate of her register in the usual legal form. In October 1873, while sailing under the flag of the United States on the high seas, she was forcibly seized by a Spanish gunboat and was carried into the port of Santiago de Cuba where 53 of her passengers and crew – consisting of US, British and Cuban nationals – were summarily tried by court-martial for piracy and executed by firing squad. He stated:

It is a well-established principle, asserted by the United States from the beginning of their national independence, recognized by Great Britain and other maritime powers, and stated by the Senate in a resolution passed unanimously on the 16th of June, 1858, that – American vessels on the high seas in time of peace, bearing the American flag, remain under the jurisdiction of the country to which they belong, and therefore any visitation, molestation, or detention of such vessel by force, or by the exhibition of force, on the part of a foreign power is in derogation of the sovereignty of the United States.

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