APIA : The presence of Iranian vessel MEHRI II – which was last reported as flying a Samoan flag may have international legal implications on Samoa if it is still in international waters fraudulently registered as a Samoan vessel.
If the vessel is engaged in illicit activities while under the Samoan flag – the actions could reflect poorly on Samoa.
According to the Law of the Sea Convention, the Flag States ultimately hold responsibility for the actions of its vessels at time of incident.
According to maritime experts: “Criminal activity, especially illicit trade in narcotics, humans, and weapons, has become so extensive that States and corporations may be implicated in the criminal enterprise. Flagged states of vessels engaging in such activities may be implicated.”
Such crimes such as piracy and the illicit trafficking of narcotics, humans, and weapons comprise the main varieties of transnational crime addressed in the Convention.
Samoa has reported the incident to the International Maritime Organization – however as long as the ship is at large and Samoa is its Flag State, in the eyes of the international community, it is a Samoan vessel until it is properly investigated and stripped of the flag.
Maritime experts note that as the high seas fall outside the jurisdiction of a single State, and are collectively policed by all States through international law, a collaborative approach must be taken to address crime occurring at sea or crime carried out through use of the maritime domain.
Article 110 of the Law of the Sea Convention discusses the customary rule that warships may exercise “approach and visit” on the high seas of any ship that is suspected of piracy, human trafficking, unauthorized broadcasting; is without nationality; or, “though flying a foreign flag or refusing to show its flag, the ship is, in reality, of the same nationality as the warship.” Article 111 addresses the right of hot pursuit, allowing warships of one State to follow a ship through the different maritime zones if that ship is suspected of illegal activity.
For all we care – if MEHRI II is pursued by a Warship – Samoa will become a part of an interesting international incident, by no fault of our own. As we know it.