Boarded in international waters

Discussion in 'All Things Boats & Boating' started by gonzo, Jan 2, 2011.

  1. gonzo
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    gonzo Senior Member

    I know the USCG does it and some other Navies or Coast Guards too. They board boats in international and sometimes within other countries' national boundaries. How does that fall under International Law? I am looking for legal knowledge and opinions. If you have a political or philosophical beef, please start your own thread.
     
  2. CatBuilder

    CatBuilder Previous Member

    It's my understanding that there are a few things at play:

    1) Sovereign waters keep getting pushed farther and farther out to sea. The "Exclusive Economic Zone" in the US is now 200nm out! That's pretty far and they'll board all day long up to this limit.

    2) Definitely the country the boat is registered in is the law which applies to the boat itself... until it's in another country, in which case you can run afoul of BOTH sets of laws as they both apply.

    3) I think (could be wrong) that there are often agreements between countries. So say, the USCG has a unit that is in or near a Panamanian port (just as an example)... if Panama doesn't care and welcomes the US harassing its drug runners, they will not bother to stop the US. I think that's how it works....

    4) Also, they have roving, global Port Security Units to "protect US interests abroad." See this Wikipedia link for that stuff:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Port_Security_Unit
     
  3. gonzo
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    gonzo Senior Member

    I was boarded in Dominican Republic waters by the USCG years ago. They pointed their .50 cal and ordered us to stop.
     
  4. CatBuilder

    CatBuilder Previous Member

    Good times. That stinks. I get annoyed at the harassment that takes place. You're from the US originally, right?

    You probably know they watch at every boat in transit from South/Central America to FL to see if they can intercept boats for the failed "War on Drugs."

    Here is some good reading:

    http://www.uscg.mil/top/missions/MaritimeSecurity.asp

    The US and DR have had agreements in place for many years on this... apparently.
     
  5. TeddyDiver
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    TeddyDiver Gollywobbler

    And you did't ask their mandate? Maybe we have to wait some WikiLeaks info.. :rolleyes:
     
  6. gonzo
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    gonzo Senior Member

    That is interesting reading. I was always curious of how the USCG ended up in Vietnam. I mean, there has to be a legal justification before deploying them. I suppose they can argue it is part of the "pre-emptive strike" doctrine

    Teddy: We were at the wrong end of the barrel ;)
     
  7. Submarine Tom

    Submarine Tom Previous Member

    Gonzo, I have no idea but, I was a rookie deckhand on a Canadian Coast Guard ship doing Search And Rescue combined with Fisheries enforcement. I witnessed a boarding crew in action and I can't tell you how seriously they took the mission. Full body armour, well armed and full-on control of the situation. It was an opportunity for me to see their side of it. They were entering the fishers turf and big money fines were at stake for infractions. These fish boats often have firearms on board, drugs sometimes, in fact, they can even be involved in smuggling. Personally, I thought it over the top but it wasn't me out there at risk, an unknown level of risk. We didn't (don't) have 50 calliber machine guns on our deck and this is the extent of Coast Guard enforcement here, it's our Navy and Police that do other boarding and enforcement.

    Just realized I'm off topic here as this was in Canadian waters, sorry.

    -Tom
     
  8. TeddyDiver
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    TeddyDiver Gollywobbler

    "We possess the civil authority to board any vessel subject to U.S. jurisdiction. Once aboard, we can inspect, search, inquire, and arrest."
    So don't fly stars and stripes.. Maybe Russian or Chinese flag :confused:
     
  9. Lt. Kludge
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    Lt. Kludge Junior Member

    Typically the USCG has been granted authority from Foreign nations prior to engaging in any bording activity within their territorial waters or with the flag state when conducting a boarding upon the high seas. Alternatively they may also embark an official/local CG officer to grant authority for a specific operation. e.g. A Dominican Republic official might have been aboard the cutter in technical control of the boarding.

    As to Vietnam I assume you are referring to Late60's early 70's. When the USCG was responsible for Operation and security of of some of South Vietnam's ports? That is/has been a normal part of their mission although not talked about much, to provide port security and efficient port operations in support of US Navy and US DOD. Just like their current role in Iraq and the Gulf.
     
  10. gonzo
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    gonzo Senior Member

    So does that mean the USCG operates as a branch of the Navy sometimes?
     
  11. Lt. Kludge
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    Lt. Kludge Junior Member

    Sometimes yes. The USCG is part of the US Armed Forces although it reports to the Department of Homeland Security and not Defence. It has historically done joint training with the US Navy. Some US Navy Fleets have CG Cutters attached to them during certain operations. And due to the Posse Comitatus Act, whereby the Army and Navy are forbidden Law Enforcement powers. A CG officer may technically be in charge of a US Navy vessel if for some reason it should be required to take a "Law Enforcement Action.

    The CG is particularly proud if it's Battle Streamers commemorating actions against the enemy. And of their Medal of Honor Recipient who was operating landing craft at Guadalcanal in WW2.
     
  12. Ike
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    Ike Senior Member

    So far Lt Kludge is right on the money. Being a retired CG officer I concur.

    The US Coast Guard, under U. S. law, has the authority to stop, board and search any US vessel (whether you are flying a fake foreign flag or not which happens to be illegal by the way and you could be boraded by someone a lot less friendly than the USCG) any where on US waters, and any US vessel in international waters, and US vessel in foreign waters if they have the nations permission to enter their waters.

    In interational waters foreign vessels can be boarded only with permission of the flag state of the vessel, what is called a "statement of no objection" by the Flage state. Vessels flying a bogus flag (it's pretty easy to find out) or the wrong national flag, or not flying any flag are subject to immediate boarding, not just by the US but by anyone. They are considered a stateless vessel. That is connsidered piracy in some situations.

    Boarding parties have been armed since the eighties and can use force if necessary, but that is rare, except in the case of drug smugglers. By the way, the decision to arm boarding parties was not done lightly. It was argued about for several years within the Coast Guard, Congress, and the boating Community. Not that we didn't already have the authority to do it. The USCG has always had the authority to be armed. We are not only military but members of the law enforcement community and Officers Of the US Customs. Too many incidents with drug runners made it imperative to protect our personnel. Boarding parties are very rigourously trained and the Commandant and commanding officers don't take it well when they exceed their authority or abuse it.

    As the LT said the USCG has fought in all of the US's wars and earned many accolades and awards for valor. This includes Iraq and Afghanistan. There are CG personnel at Baghram AFB supervising handling of dangerous cargo. Both of the ships I served on were in WWII and Vietnam.

    If the Congress declares war, the USCG Shifts colors and becomes part of the Navy. But in non-declared wars like now, it stays in the department it is part of, in the case now, Homeland Security. When I joined we were Treasury, then Dept of transportation and finally DHS. I won't comment on my opinion of shifting to DHS.

    Any way, to answer the first question: look up 14 U.S.C. ยง 89 http://vlex.com/vid/sec-law-enforcement-19228706

    14 USC 143 - Sec. 143. Treasury Department http://vlex.com/vid/sec-treasury-department-19228496

    19 USC 1589 - Sec. 1589a. Enforcement authority of customs officers
    http://vlex.com/vid/enforcement-authority-customs-officers-19193873

    See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Coast_Guard
     
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2011
  13. Ad Hoc
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    Ad Hoc Naval Architect

    It doesn't.

    Article 3 of UNCLOS:

    "Every State has the right to establish the breadth of its territorial sea up to a limit not exceeding 12 nautical miles, measured from baselines determined in accordance with this Convention."

    Thus beyond 12nm, it is international waters.

    If you wish to refer to EEZ...which is ostensibly for exploration, which falls way way outside the USCG jurisdiction, this too is only 200nm.

    If you look at "hot pursuit", of a vessel:
    Article 111
    " The hot pursuit of a foreign ship may be undertaken when the competent authorities of the coastal State have good reason to believe that the ship has violated the laws and regulations of that State. Such pursuit must be commenced when the foreign ship or one of its boats is within the internal waters, the archipelagic waters, the territorial sea or the contiguous zone of the pursuing State, and may only be continued outside the territorial sea or the contiguous zone if the pursuit has not been interrupted..."

    So again, only if the pursuit started in their waters.

    If you look at "conflicts" etc:
    Article 97
    "No arrest or detention of the ship, even as a measure of investigation, shall be ordered by any authorities other than those of the flag State."

    So again, no jurisdiction.

    The USCG boards anyone and feels it has the right to do so, under their own land laws. Yet there is no sea law that supports their actions. They act with impunity hoping no one will challange them.
     
  14. michael pierzga
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    michael pierzga Senior Member

    Its a shame that the Coast Guard has become so militarized. When I was a kid I grew up next to a USCG Station and its was like a real world "McHale's Navy" movie set. Us kids would hang around the dock catching crabs at night under the lights , then steam them up with the guys...drank my first beer with the coasties. That USCG base is now barricaded behind Razor wire fencing and CCTV cameras. No kids catching crabs...Too bad.

    I dont know the law but Ive been boarded or shadowed by the US coast Guard many times over the years. Mostly in the Caribbean Basin, always sailing foreign flag yachts. South of Hati, Windward Passage, even offshore East of the Caribbean Shelf waters when maintaining AMVERS watch....... Ive even been boarded in the Gulf of Maine.


    Last year North of Algeria and well inside the shipping lanes I had a US warship swing by to have a gab on VHF . Not sure their involvement over their...some kinda NATO boarder protection scheme. They were interested in me because I was not sounding an AIS.

    Inshore, Along the west coast of Albania was another hotspot... NATO helicopter fly bys even when under VTS supervision. Dont know the nationality of the choppers but their English was good. Think they are looking for cigarette and people smugglers. Ive sailed thru islands of floating Marlboro Red cigarettes off that coast . Hundreds , perhaps thousands, of Red cartons


    Since I have nothing to hide I dont mind boarding and find it a good at sea exercise to have a small craft come alongside. Educational for my crew to observe just how difficult it is to manover alongside offshore. ... one day there might be a true emergency, medical for instance, requiring evacuation. .

    The Coast Guard crews in the Carribean are well armed and proceed with courtesy. Aways young guys.

    I remember one rough weather boarding about 75 miles off the entrance to the Panama Canal during a full on trade-wind blow. 25, 30 knots. The guys got sea sick on the yacht as we wallowed without sails and no way on. !! . I have a feeling that the Coast Guard operates down there under agreements with the countries in the region.
     

  15. michael pierzga
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    michael pierzga Senior Member

    Oh and IKE...what was the justification for arming the Coasties ? Have there been incidents in which Coast guard personnel have met with force when performing a standard boarding in US waters ?
     
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