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Posted by: Maricopa Lawyers on Aug 10, 2015

The term has been popularized by action movies throughout the years. The common belief is that if you were to go into international waters, you could get away with any sort of illegal activity, because the waters extend beyond the jurisdiction of any country. In case you were planning a trip to the high seas, here’s some more info on the law and how it applies.

international waters

Oceans, seas, and waters outside of national jurisdiction are often referred to as the high seas. Although the boundaries of a certain country do not extend into international waters, most countries in the world have signed the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea. Incidentally, the United States is not one of the signing countries, but adheres to the laws for the most part, anyway. The majority of the convention refers to rights and obligations involved in navigation, but it does prohibit some activities, and any country is entitled to stop these activities, regardless of the nationality of the offender. The three major crimes outlined are slave transportation, piracy and drug trafficking.

Also, every ship on the high seas must fly the flag of a particular state, and there must be a genuine link between the ship and the state to which it’s linked. The laws of that particular state (nationality) apply to your ship and everyone on it. Say, for example, that a crime is committed on a ship in international waters. The country in which the ship is registered has jurisdiction to take action. If the country doesn’t, then international law allows the country of the victim of the crime to take jurisdiction. In a case where one of the three previously mentioned crimes outlined in the UNCLOS are committed, any country can legally take action.

Despite what you may have learned in a James Bond movie, reaching international waters doesn’t give anyone carte blanche to commit crimes. In general, if you get caught committing a crime, you can be prosecuted by someone. If you’re facing a criminal charge here in Arizona, speak to an experienced criminal attorney about your case.