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How Common Law and Marine Admiralty Law Differ

written by: Chief Engineer Mohit Sanguri • edited by: Lamar Stonecypher • updated: 11/15/2011

In this article we discuss Admiralty law and Common law, the need for these laws, and conventions that govern flag, coastal, and port states.

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    All ships have to observe the rules and regulations made at international, national and local levels. Internationally accepted rules are based on the conventions, regulations, codes, and guidelines adopted by the “International Maritime Organization” (IMO).

    National rules are framed by the government of the state in which the ship is registered. The authority empowered to ensure compliance with these laws is called the "Flag State Administration."

    When the ship visits a port in another country, similar authorities are empowered to ensure compliance with international law applicable to the ship and also local laws applicable to a ship visiting that port or country. Such authority is called the “Port State Administration.”

    Ships are "Classed" for the service they are required to render. Independent bodies called “Classification Societies” frame their own Laws and Rules for the construction, operation, and maintenance of ships. They maintain a register of ships classed with them. These societies must be duly authorized by the flag state administration. With proper cooperation and coordination these authorities control the sea going vessels. Harbor craft may be subjected to a different set of rules, through the authorities concerned with the registration of these vessels mostly follow the international and national regulations with only slight deviations to suit local conditions.

    Types of Law:

    1. Common Law / Customary Law: International practices carried out traditionally at a place by state, which after some time such practices are selected and adopted as a law of that particular place.
    2. Statute Law: In case common law is enacted by state, then they are called statute law. (E.g. safety and protection of the maritime environment are under Statute Law.)
    3. Treaties: These are written agreement between two states (bilateral agreements).
    4. Convention: It is a treaty between states concerning a particular sphere of jurisdiction in order to provide uniformity in international law. Most countries adopt various international conventions and agreements. Once a convention has been adopted by a country, it should enact a national legislation to enforce its provisions, which is like the Merchant Shipping Act of India (load line) rules of 1966 that gives effect to load line convention.
    5. Admiralty Law: Admiralty Law is also known as Maritime Law. It governs all maritime activities and offenses. Maritime law is an international law formed by the different law makers under (IMO) International Maritime Organization where they develop the convention, which later becomes the statute law of the countries.
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    Admiralty Law by International Maritime Organisation (IMO)

    International Maritime Organisation
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    The Need for the Admirality Laws

    Apart from the conventions there are recommendations that are not internationally binding, but may be implemented by the state for ships flying its flags.

    The Main Treaties / Conventions Making the Admirality (Maritime) Law are:

    • IMO –International Maritime Organisation
    • UNCLOS – United Nations Conferences on Law of sea
    • ILO –International Labour Organisation
    • WHO -World Health Organisation
    • ITU –International Telecommunication Union
    • CMI –Comite Maritime International

    Flag State

    1. Flag state sets, monitors, and enforces standards of safety and pollution prevention on all its vessels. It makes sure that the ships are following the rules and regulations as per the IMO conventions.
    2. They enforce international standards of safety and pollution prevention on foreign ships visiting states port.
    3. It enforces statutory laws on their country.
    4. Survey and inspection are been carried out in accordance with domestic and international regulation.
    5. To enforce standards of competency among seafarer.
    6. To investigate accidents involving its own ship and other flags when in states waters.
    7. Approve the equipment for vessels under international regulations.
    8. To advise on safety matters.
    9. Maintaining its own register of ships.
    10. To solve problems of vessels regarding statutory matters, e.g. certificates, documentation, etc.
    11. To assist in detention or arrest of vessel.
    12. To advise master on commercial matters.

    Coastal State Jurisdiction

    1. A vessel has to sail to various waters during its voyage and when it enters territorial waters of a particular state, she comes under the jurisdiction of that particular coastal state. These are generally 12 NM in open seas and 24 NM in contiguous zones.
    2. A list of coastal states claim for these zones is given in the annual notice to mariners.
    3. A coastal state may have different laws in navigation compared to the adjacent states.
    4. Within a coastal state they may be different laws from one region to another.
    5. In case of doubt the master should consult sailing direction, local regulation booklets, checks with owners, agents and P& I correspondents.

    Port State Jurisdiction

    1. When the vessel is in port or with in its port limits she is required to obey the laws of the host country.
    2. If required, the port state may proceed against a vessel to prevent pollution or in case of pollution violation.
    3. Port state may also be requested to investigate on behalf of another flag state or another state where pollution has occurred.
    4. SOLAS certificates will remain valid under the condition that the master reports any damage or non-conformity affecting his ship to port state as well as flag state.
    5. Port state inspector has the power to carry out the general inspection and also if there is sufficient evidence to detain unsafe ship.
    6. In pollution prevention the port state control has the power to investigate if the ship has equipment designed and complying with MARPOL.

    So the administration like port state, flag state, and coastal state are responsible for implementation of Statutory Laws concerning the operation of ship. The administration exercise flag state control on ships of the same nationalities, wherever the ship goes and the port state controls the ship of other nationalities when they visit the ports under its jurisdiction. The administration frames its own laws / regulations based on the IMO convention under its own legislative system.

    Image Credit

    Wikipedia - International Maritime Organization

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    References

    International Maritime Organization (IMO) - Admiralty Law and Conventions

    United Nations - Admiralty and Maritime Law Guide - Internation Conventions

    Website - Comite Maritime International