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What is the 'Maritime Law'

Maritime law is a body of laws, conventions and treaties that governs international private
business or other matters involving ships, shipping or crimes occurring on open water. Laws
between nations governing such things as national versus international waters are considered
public international law and are known as the Law of the Seas. Maritime law is also known as
"admiralty law."

BREAKING DOWN 'Maritime Law'

In most developed nations, maritime law is governed by a separate code and is a separate
jurisdiction from national laws. The United Nations, through the International Maritime
Organization (IMO), has issued numerous conventions that can be enforced by the navies and
coast guards of countries that have signed the treaty outlining these rules. Maritime law governs
many of the insurance claims relating to ships and cargo, civil matters between shipowners,
seamen and passengers, and piracy.

Additionally, maritime law regulates the registration, license, and inspection procedures for ships
and shipping contracts, maritime insurance and the carriage of goods and passengers.

IMO Conventions
The IMO was created in 1958 and is responsible for ensuring that existing international maritime
conventions are kept up to date as well as develop new conventions as and when the need arises.
Today, there are dozens of conventions regulating all aspects of maritime commerce and

The IMO identifies three of these as its key conventions. They are:

The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea

The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships

The International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watch-keeping for


Conventions are regularly amended to keep up with new business practices and technologies. On
its website, the IMO has a complete list of existing conventions, their historical amendments and
explanatory notes.

The governments of the of IMO's 171 member states are responsible for the enforcement of IMO
conventions for ships of their nationality. Local governments enforce the provisions of IMO
conventions as far as their own ships are concerned and set the penalties for infringements. In
some cases, ships must carry certificates on board the ship to show that they have been inspected
and have met the required standards.

Nationality of Ships
A ship's nationality is determined by the country where it is registered. Most ships are registered
in the national registry of the country where their owners reside or operate their business.
However, often for reasons of tax planning or to take advantage of more lenient local rules, some
owners will register ships in countries that allow foreign ships to be registered. These registries
are called "flags of convenience." Two common examples of flags of convenience are Panama
and Bermuda.

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International Maritime Organization - IMO


A specialized agency of the United Nations that is responsible for measures to improve the safety
and security of international shipping and to prevent marine pollution from ships. The IMO's
objectives can be best summed up by its slogan - "Safe, secure and efficient shipping on clean
oceans." It was established by means of a convention adopted in Geneva in 1948, and first met in
1959. Based in the United Kingdom, the IMO has 169 member states as of 2010 and three
associate members.

BREAKING DOWN 'International Maritime Organization -


The IMO is also involved in legal issues matters pertaining to international shipping, such as
liability and compensation matters, and the facilitation of international maritime traffic. The
IMO's governing body, which is the Assembly that is made up of all 169 member states,
generally meets every two years.

Read more: Maritime Law

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