Sovereign and crown immunity for warships? - Or acting in a manner consistent with IMO environmental conventions



Publication Details

J. Mansell and M. Tsamenyi, 'Sovereign and crown immunity for warships? - Or acting in a manner consistent with IMO environmental conventions' (Paper presented at the Pacific 2012 International Maritime Conference: Darling Harbour, Sydney, 31 Jan - 2 Feb).

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Pacific 2012 IMC

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Pacific 2012 IMC provides a unique opportunity for people involved in maritime and naval affairs around the world to discuss the latest developments in design, naval architecture, engineering, science and technology. With the concurrent Maritime Exposition, the event will provide a meeting place for industry representatives to exchange ideas and to establish personal and business contacts.


Merchant ships engaged on international voyages are required to comply with the standards for protection of the marine environment developed by the member States of the International Maritime Organization (IMO). Measures are in place in international law to ensure that these standards are implemented, monitored and enforced. Warships interact with these merchant ships on all oceans, face the same perils of the sea, and share many of the same issues of prevention of pollution. In principle warships, troopships, naval auxiliaries and government owned ships on non-commercial service have sovereign immunity from compliance with IMO environmental protection standards. However, to manage public expectations, reputational risks and liability, many States are increasingly noting the exhortation in IMO environmental Conventions to adopt appropriate measures to ensure that warships act in a manner consistent with those Conventions, where reasonable and practical. At the national level, some States have extended the application of national policies and legislation on environmental protection to their own warships and other vessels entitled to sovereign immunity under international law. This paper examines the international regulatory regime for merchant ships, analyses the international law aspects of sovereign immunity for warships, and discusses the international standards for environmental protection, and the implications of these standards, for warships. The paper also examines some State practice. It is concluded that IMO Conventions provide an appropriate standard for all ships, including warships, and that it is reasonable for Governments to apply these standards to warships where practicable.

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