Millions of people from all walks of life take part in cruises each year. While some take part in the serenity and peace that the open waters provide, others take advantage of the mostly good-natured but sometimes illegal debauchery and freedom that international waters provide.
Due to each country having its own version of it and cruise ships going in out of many countries ports, the associated Maritime or Admiralty Law is difficult to understand.
To begin, a cruise ship (or any ship) follows the law of the flag it’s flying under. The easiest example of this are popular Royal Caribbean cruise ships. Royal Caribbean is registered in Liberia, thus flies a Liberian flag and follows Liberian Law when in international waters.
Another example is a United States registered ship allowing gambling on its cruise. How is this possible? International Waters. Though these examples seem cut and dry, they aren’t. Legal jurisdiction on the open waters obeys the rules below.
- Each country’s internal waters, like bays and ports, are a legal part of that country. If a ship is docked in a port located in Miami, they must follow United States (and Florida) specific laws that would apply to the ship, its crew and passengers.
- Almost all countries have territorial waters that extend 12 miles from its coast. In the United States, any ship cannot conduct gambling aboard the vessel until it’s beyond that 12-mile range since gambling is illegal in most parts of the United States.
- In addition to territorial waters, countries also have some jurisdiction in their contagious zone. Some of these rights include patrolling their own borders within a 12 to 24-mile range from its coastline and boarding any ship they suspect may be smuggling drugs or other illegal substances. It also doesn’t matter what flag the boat is flying; if it’s in the 12 to 24-mile range, it must adhere to that nation’s laws, which means allowing border patrol to search the vessel if they choose to.
- Once the ship crosses the 24-mile threshold, they will have entered international waters, or, as others call it, the “high seas.” This is where the self-indulgence can begin. While most is innocent fun, other activities are downright illegal.
A passenger who is assaulted or robbed while on a cruise ship would have a very hard time trying to get the guilty party convicted due the complicated jurisdiction issues discussed above.
Also, make sure to check the fine print on your cruise ship ticket to see where the cruise line can be sued if you’re a victim of a cruise ship crime. Some are tricky and disorienting for a reason. If you’re the victim of a crime in the territorial waters of a Los Angeles port but the ticket says you can only sue in Seattle you would be hard-pressed to find a Los Angeles court that would hear your case.