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Maritime Law Enforcement

Conflicts, such as the Russia-Ukraine war, combined with the technological advancement of bad actors, have placed a burden on maritime law enforcement bodies. Criminals have progressed beyond merely disabling their automatic identification systems (“dark activity”), so maritime law enforcement agencies are now coping with sophisticated methods, such as GNSS spoofing, ID tampering, zombie vessels, and more. This has put a renewed spotlight on maritime law enforcement bodies…

What is Maritime Law Enforcement?

Maritime law enforcement can refer to the act of upholding maritime laws, as well as the agencies who run these assignments. This includes domestic maritime law enforcement and assisting with international maritime law enforcement. A few examples of such agencies include the U.S. Coast Guard, Her Majesty’s Coastguard as part of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency of the United Kingdom, as well as the Corps of the Port Captaincies Coastguard of Italy. 

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Security agencies engage in operations and enforce their enforcement jurisdiction over vessels that engage in illegal activities, including terrorism, transnational crimes, pollution, illegal fishing, and intelligence gathering across various maritime domains. 

It’s not often that law enforcement agencies actually police domestic waterways unless they are navigated by vessels engaged in interstate trade. Agencies charged with enforcing local maritime law often collaborate, based on the participation of each country in various international conventions.

Let’s take a step back and briefly outline maritime law…

What is Maritime Law? 

Maritime law is a body of laws, conventions, and treaties concerning interstate or international shipping matters: 

  • It handles private maritime issues, conflicts, violations, and other nautical matters
  • In most developed countries, maritime law is independent of national laws
  • Maritime law governs many of the insurance claims relating to vessels and cargo; civil matters between shipowners, seamen, and passengers; and piracy 
  • Maritime law regulates the registration, license, and inspection procedures for vessels and shipping contracts; maritime insurance; and the carriage of goods and passengers
  • The International Maritime Organization (IMO) ensures that existing international maritime conventions are kept up to date and it develops new agreements when needed

Maritime Global Agreements

To ensure that the ocean does not become lawless, there are several global agreements including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) that help define specific areas of navigable waters and which maritime laws will apply. This is critical so that maritime law enforcement can work efficiently. According to the IMO, “The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea was adopted in 1982. It lays down a comprehensive regime of law and order in the world’s oceans and seas establishing rules governing all uses of the oceans and their resources.”

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There is not one country that has legal jurisdiction over international waters. The UNCLOS defines how violations are handled in regard to which nation’s laws would apply. Many nations have what is referred to as, “special maritime and territorial jurisdiction” clauses, which give them the ability to claim jurisdiction. This means that there are certain situations where a country can exert its laws over international waters. For example, if a citizen from the U.S. committed a crime and attempted to flee the country on board a ship registered to Russia, the U.S. could exert its special maritime and territorial jurisdiction to board the vessel while it is in international waters and remove the U.S. citizen.

Maritime Law Enforcement Solutions 

A maritime law enforcement technological solution is key to monitoring and detecting threats. For example, when it comes to illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, it is critical to better understand where the overwhelming majority of IUU fishing vessels are originating from, where the hot zones and support hubs are located, and how support fleets are put together and coordinated so that organizations can enhance their plans to combat IUU, or at least mitigate its harms. Windward’s maritime domain awareness technology uses artificial intelligence-powered insights, based on over a decade of proprietary data and machine learning technology, to enhance visibility and detect threats in real-time. It allows for the prediction of operational risks, monitoring, prioritizing threats, and protecting borders against all risks. Predictive intelligence and insights are critical, enabling organizations to operate proactively and enforce maritime law.