International Law of the Shipmaster




“Law cannot reach where enforcement cannot follow.” Sir Nicholas Goodison, The Times, 16 January 1986.

§ 5.0 The Jurisdiction of Sovereigns. This chapter deals with jurisdiction1 in a broad context, while subsequent chapters describe special jurisdictional concepts of importance to the shipmaster. The master is guided by place, time, geography and law. The short but accurate description of the reality of the shipmaster is that he may run but he cannot hide from the reach of a sovereign. In public international maritime law, the doctrine of jurisdiction is designed within a framework that allocates and delimits national sovereign powers. “Jurisdiction”, as does “ship”, defies a precise definition.2 However, in broad terms, “jurisdiction” is the authority by which a state expresses and administers its laws. It comes from the public international law, the conflict of laws and the state’s constitutional law expressed as the various powers of its separate (in most cases) parts of government. These powers are parochial in the sense that they are perceived as the best political and economic allocations of a sovereign’s resources to meet the needs of the government and, one must presume, the state. The master may, at any given time, find himself in many jurisdictions3 and both a subject and an object of many bodies of law.4 Masters, owners, managers and charterers, more than most, should know under whose laws the vessel comes at any time in its activities.

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