Ships’ flags are more than a sign of nationalism

| Jan 6, 2021 | Maritime Law |

Ships have passed through the state’s waterways and ports for hundreds of years, helping make it what it is today. It does not take long to note that many of these boats are not local, flying a United Nations-worthy array of flags. They have an eye-pleasing variety of colors, but they also have legal significance.

Large tankers, cruise ships and vessels travel all over the world. Wherever they go, that flag they fly indicates what international and domestic laws it follows. This is done through various agreements and treaties drafted and updated over the years. Slowly it evolved into maritime or admiralty law (which is another name for maritime law) that we have today.

How it works

Generally speaking, a German ship adheres to German maritime laws in U.S. waters, while a U.S. ship sailing in German waters is subject to U.S. maritime laws. It should also be noted that a vessel must have registration and some real connection to its home country. So it is more than just a matter of flying a flag of China to say that the vessel follows Chinese maritime law.

Who hears U.S. cases?

The admiralty court, which is often U.S. federal district courts, hear cases related to maritime or admiralty, though the court may refuse to do so. Typically, cases involve injured workers working on a vessel (or their family) pursuing damages, or those injured on a charter fishing boat. These waterways laws are often handled differently from regular federal and state laws, so it is necessary to work with an attorney with experience handling maritime or admiralty law, even when it is an issue of workplace safety or a personal injury claim.