Last week, Claire posted about Iran’s seizure of a Marshall Islands-flagged container ship, MV Maersk Tigris. To recap, the Iranians decided to demonstrate, yet again, that the U.S. is a worthless ally by seizing a cargo ship flagged by a country that we pledged to defend. It appears that the seizure is based on an Iranian court judgement against Maersk, which chartered the vessel.
Eugene Kontorovich, on the excellent Volokh Conspiracy blog, analyzes Iran’s legal claims for seizing the Maersk Tigris and concludes that the country doesn’t have a leg to stand on:
Maritime law in fact allows nations to arrest foreign vessels for certain kind of claims, or maritime liens, and the cargo dispute between Iran and Maersk qualifies. However, the arrest of ships engaged in innocent transit is limited under the United Convention of the Law of the Sea, and general custom, to a limited set of claims involving the vessel itself…
Thus the ownership of ships, the scope of the sister ship/associated ship doctrine, and so forth are entirely besides the point. Iran’s seizure clearly violates international law, and one might add, a branch of international law that is ordinarily well-respected, and quite fundamental for global commerce. Moreover, no maritime lien gives Iran any authority to detain the crew.
Given the flagrant breach of international law, there seems to be a surprising silence from the “international community” and proponents of global governance. Recall that Russia’s unlawful seizure of a Greenpeace vessel in 2013 lead to an outcry from NGOs, Nobelists, and numerous governments. To be sure, Arctic Horizon incident was more aggravated in some sense (the absurd piracy charges against the crew), but the Tigris incident is more aggravated in other ways (the Maersk ship was not engaged in any arguably illegal or dangerous activities when arrested, unlike the Greenpeace vessels).
So, a state that routinely uses terrorism illegally has seized a defenseless vessel on the open seas and illegally taken her crew captive. Which, if you think about it, is almost the precise definition of what makes one a pirate. Fortunately for Iran, we cannot call Iran a pirate-state because pirates are non-state actors. But, as per Claire’s post:
According to the Chief White House Correspondent for CBS News, Pentagon lawyers have determined the United States “has no obligation to come to the defense of a Marshall Islands-flagged vessel at sea.”
Of course, Obama could chose to do something about this, even if he isn’t obligated. But he won’t because that might muss the Ayatollah’s hair, and that’s not how we treat our newfound friends. The Iranians will, once again, be rewarded for their audacity. Obama is the most convenient adversary Americas’ enemies could hope for.