Interdiction and boarding of vessels at sea: new developments and old problems
Additional Publication Information
The practical aspects of maritime security consist of many elements including port security measures, vessel monitoring, intelligence collection, and cooperation. One aspect of maritime security that is an essential element, which regardless of other developments can never be entirely dispensed with, is the interdiction and boarding of vessels. There will always be a necessity on the part of governmental vessels to intercept, board, and bring under control ships at sea. This chapter considers the relevant international law to the interdiction and boarding of vessels at sea, including some recent developments designed to widen the circumstances where a boarding might take place.
The law of the sea has traditionally not been sympathetic to measures toward the interdiction of vessels other than that of the flag state, except in extremely limited circumstances. The grundnorm point is the basic principle of noninterference with vessels at sea, unless they are flying your state's flag or have engaged in behavior giving rise to universal jurisdiction, such as piracy or the slave trade. This has been the situation for many years, as is borne out by a statement by Lord Stowell almost two centuries ago: In places where no local authority exists, where the subjects of all States meet upon a footing of entire equality and independence, no one State, or any of its subjects, has a right to assume or exercise authority over the subjects of another. No nation can exercise a right of visitation and search upon the common and unappropriated parts of the sea, save only on the belligerent claim.
Even if a jurisdictional basis can be found, international law circumscribes the means available to compel a vessel to comply with an order to heave to. This chapter also explores the relevant authority dealing with the use of force at sea during peacetime to indicate what range of action can be used by a commander to compel compliance.