A “ship” or “vessel” is a concrete physical object, but that does not mean we can satisfactorily define it. Here, the difficulty is that the legal context in which the word “ship” is used vary so significantly that it may be inappropriate to specify one definition.
Drafters and decision makers have struggled with the problem of defining “ship” in national and international law. In a British case involving insurance policy coverage, the lower court had found that a crane floating on pontoons was not a “ship” or “vessel.” On appeal Lord Justice Scrutton was troubled by the lack of a definition of those terms:
One might possibly take the position of the gentleman who dealt with the elephant by saying he could not define an elephant, but he knew what it was when he saw one, and it may be that is the foundation of the learned Judge’s judgment [in the court below], that he cannot define “ship or vessel” but he knows this thing is not a ship or vessel. I should have liked to be able to give a definition here, because … it is rather a pity that the Courts are not able to give a definition of the words which are constantly turning up in a mercantile transaction. But the discussion today … of the various incidents and various kinds of things to which the words “ships or vessels” [have] been applied, has convinced me that it is of no use at present to try to define it, and the only thing I can do in this case is to treat it as a question of fact and to say that I am not satisfied that the learned Judge was wrong.
We assuredly can say more about the concept of “ship” or “vessel” than “I know one when I see one,” but it does not necessarily follow that an all-encompassing definition is essential to that end. The ABILA LOS Committee initially proposed the following definition for UNCLOS:
“Ship” [and] “vessel” have the same, interchangeable meaning in the English language version of the 1982 LOS Convention. “Ship” is defined as a vessel of any type whatsoever operating in the marine environment, including hydrofoil boats, air-cushion vehicles, submersibles, floating craft and floating platforms. Where, e.g., “ship” or “vessel” is modified by other words, or prefixes or suffixes, as in the Article 29 definition of a warship, those particular definitions apply.
I fear that this definition, or any one definition proposed for use in UNCLOS, may be either too broad or too narrow, depending on the context in which it is used. Interpretation of “ship” may well vary from issue to issue, and when we seek a definition that applies to as wide a range of situations and issues as does UNCLOS, it becomes particularly difficult to agree on an acceptable definition.
Before I explore my concerns with the proposed definition, let me note that there is much in the definition with which I agree.
First, I agree that particular subcategories of ships may need to be addressed separately. This is certainly true of warships, the subject of UNCLOS Article 29. My comments do not address warships.
Second, I agree that “ship” is a general term, referring to a variety of different craft. There was a time in the age of sail when “ship” may have had a relatively specific and determinant meaning. A “ship” was “a vessel with three or more masts and fully square-rigged throughout.”
A “ship” was thus distinguishable from smaller craft; a “ship” was not a brig, a schooner, or a cutter. Today, however, the connotation of “ship” is not so specific.
Third, I agree that the terms “ship” and “vessel” should be equated. As has been noted, the terms were viewed as identical at UNCLOS III. Use of different terms in the UNCLOS English language version came about because two different committees at the Conference worked on different articles; one committee used “ship” in its articles, and the other used “vessel.” This point suggests the need for a technical change in the proposed definition. The word “vessel” in the second sentence should be changed, because if “ship” and “vessel” are synonyms, then the sentence in effect reads, “Vessel is defined as a vessel …”
It would be better to substitute a phrase like ‘Ship’ or ‘vessel’ is defined as a device capable of traversing the sea .…”
The critical issue, though, is whether we can arrive at any sensible definition capturing all the various types of craft and all the different purposes for which we have international legal rules related to ships. With respect to types of craft, the concern with whether a definition is suitable is likely to occur at the margins.
All will agree that an oil tanker, navigating the high seas under its own power and exposed to maritime risks, is a “ship” or “vessel.” But, with respect to various issues, should we include as ships: floating platforms or drilling rigs (with or without engines), temporarily fixed platforms, hydrofoils, seaplanes on the water, amphibious craft, submersibles, very small boats, houseboats or docked hotels like Queen Elizabeth I, boats towed for repairs, abandoned craft, wrecks (capable of being raised or not), craft in drydock for repair or safekeeping, craft under construction (launched or yet to be launched)? If we all could agree on what to include or exclude as a ship or vessel in all cases, drafting challenges arise. For example, the initial proposed definition indicated a preference to exclude fixed platforms from the category of “ship.” Yet the proposed definition, which encompasses “a vessel of any type whatsoever operating in the maritime environment,” may be ambiguous in this regard, unless the word “including” is read as a term of limitation rather than a term of illustration, i.e., is read to mean “including the specified examples and excluding other examples not listed.”
Although we can massage the drafting if need be, the difficult question remains: In a general convention, is it appropriate to use the same conception of “ship” for all purposes? Consider the issue of whether to exclude temporarily fixed platforms to illustrate the possibility that the definition should vary depending on the purposes for construing the term. It may be nonsense to consider fixed platforms as vessels if there is a concern with a rule like UNCLOS Article 111 on the right of hot pursuit, which contemplates a vehicle capable of self-propulsion. Yet with respect to other legal rules, e.g., rules related to the duty to rescue or to serious marine pollution, the case for a restrictive definition is not compelling. For example, the MARPOL Convention definition of “ship” is indeed broad, including fixed platforms. That seems appropriate: if important objectives could be damaged by pollution from fixed platforms, or by failing to rescue from fixed platforms, our conception of “ship” should encompass fixed platforms. One might, I suppose, leave the broader definition, which includes fixed platforms, to MARPOL and not construe the meaning of “ship” in UNCLOS so broadly. But is there any good reason to do that? I question whether the fact that UNCLOS contains articles referring to “platforms or other man-made structures at sea” and to “artificial islands, installations, and structures” means that temporary fixed platforms should be excluded from the category of ships when considering the application of rules concerning the protection of life.
Even if we focus on UNCLOS and set aside concerns over the compatibility of a definition for UNCLOS with definitions in other oceans treaties, we still should conclude that different definitions of “ship” make sense in different settings. For example, UNCLOS Article 91(2) provides: “Every State shall issue to ships to which it has granted the right to fly its flag documents to that effect.” The problem is that not every State — including States part of the unanimous support in 1956 in the International Law Commission (ILC) for the identically worded predecessor to Article 91(2), High Seas Convention Article 5(2) —issues documents to small boats entitled to fly its flag. Rather than presume such states violate Article 91(2), it seems more sensible, as has been suggested, to construe the term “ship” in this context as not including “small yacht.” Compare, however, Article 91(1), providing that “every State shall fix the conditions for the grant of its nationality to ships,” and that there must be “a genuine link between the State and the ship.” There is no reason to exclude small yachts from those Article 91(1) rules. The dilemma posed by these examples is obvious; one definition cannot at the same time include and exclude small yachts. One could even read “ship” in UNCLOS to refer, at times, to individuals.
Article 94(1), setting out every State’s general obligation to “effectively exercise its jurisdiction and control in administrative, technical and social matters over ships flying its flag,” seemingly refers both to the craft and to its master, officers and crew. Subsequent Article 94 paragraphs reinforce this notion; they specify particular obligations that flesh out the general Article 94(1) obligation. Those particular obligations certainly apply both to the craft (e.g., the flag State must maintain ship registers ) and to the master, officers and crew (e.g., the flag State must set crew labor conditions ). A flag State’s general Article 94(1) obligation to exercise jurisdiction “over ships flying its flag” thus appears to encompass an obligation to exercise jurisdiction with respect to those ships’ masters, officers and crew.
An attempt to draft a generally applicable definition of “ship” at the International Law Commission in the 1950s was not successful. The special rapporteur for the ILC in its work leading up to the 1958 LOS Conventions proposed this definition: “A ship is a device capable of traversing the sea but not the air space, with the equipment and crew appropriate to the purpose for which it is used.” When the definition came up for discussion, the special rapporteur said he “had doubts as to the necessity of the definition of a ship,” and the ILC unanimously voted to delete the definition from its articles on the high seas in 1955. An observer has suggested that the ILC discussion may have indicated that the definition was not suitable for all purposes. The ILC decided it was preferable not to have a fixed definition.
Others have studied in great detail the conception of “ship” in national and international law. They have concluded that international law lacks one general conception of “ship.” Some have also concluded that one definition is undesirable, in light of various situations and rules applying to “ships.” Lazaratos argued that a general definition of “ship” was desirable but noted the “unbridgeable” variety in national law definitions and found no customary international law definition.
He also did not specify a text for a proposed definition, although he suggested some features, such as a limitation to ocean-going vessels, that he thought should characterize a “ship” in international law.
Lucchini noted the impossibility of using particular treaties to discern characteristics of any common definition of “ship.” He suggested that academic discussion of ships, which recognized the ability to navigate, ability to float, and regular exposure to maritime risks, could help decision makers — not by providing a fixed definition, but by suggesting factors that could be examined case by case in determining what is and what is not a ship. The judge in each case should also assess the purposes for which it is important to determine whether a device is a ship. He concluded that the diversity of vessels and applicable rules made any effort to find one unified conception extraordinarily complex, and that a general definition of “ship” could not be inferred from practice and doctrine. Meyers stressed that an object that cannot float and is not capable of traversing the sea could not be considered a ship but concluded that a uniform definition suitable for all purposes was impossible:
There may be good grounds in favour of either very broad or very narrow definitions. It all depends upon what subject-matter is at issue. It would seem quite undesirable to adopt one and the same definition as obtaining for the whole of the law of the sea. … One detailed, allembracing concept: ship, obtaining under all circumstances, does not and cannot exist for all the purposes of international law. In short, “water-tight definitions do not exist.”
Because so many different rules apply to ships, because those rules may fulfill so many different purposes, and because those rules might apply to so many different types of objects, I doubt that one all-encompassing definition for UNCLOS would be satisfactory. The definitions of “ship” in national laws and in treaties addressing specific LOS issues certainly vary considerably. This illustrates the difficulty in fashioning a “one size fits all” definition. It is unremarkable in the law that the same term may mean somewhat different things in different contexts.
As the International Court of Justice has stated, a word “obtains its meaning from the context in which it is used. If the context requires a meaning which connotes a wide choice, it must be construed accordingly, just as it must be given a restrictive meaning if the context in which it is used so requires.” The ILC decision not to include a definition of “ship” in a general LOS convention was wise.
The final ABILA LOS Committee definition of “ship” or “vessel” reads:
“Ship” or “vessel” have the same, interchangeable meaning in the UNCLOS English language version. “Ship” is defined as a human-made device, including a submersible vessel, capable of traversing the sea. Where “ship” or “vessel” is modified by other words, prefixes or suffixes in UNCLOS as in its Article 29 definition of “warship,” those particular definitions apply. A narrower definition of “ship” or “vessel,” otherwise unmodified, should be used if a particular rule’s context or purposes indicate a narrower definition is appropriate.
This revised definition is an improvement on the initial proposed definition, because it acknowledges the importance of context in construing the meaning of “ship” or “vessel.”
What is the meaning of ship with someone?
Shipping is the act of wanting two or more fictional characters or celebrities to end up in a relationship, usually romantic.
What does it mean to claim a ship?
Also known as cargo claims, shipping claims, or transportation claims, a freight claim is a legal demand by a shipper, consignee, or product owner to a carrier for financial reimbursement for a loss or damage to a shipment. No one wants to deal with a freight claim but sometimes ship happens.
What is towage in maritime law?
Towage is the act of having one ship or boat pull (tow) another. … Towage is based upon the employment of one vessel by another which means a contract to employ that vessel.
What is the difference between cargo and shipment?
As nouns the difference between shipment and cargo is that shipment is a load of goods that is transported by any method (not just by ship) while cargo is freight carried by a ship, aircraft etc.
What is the largest ship in the world? Seawise Giant
The biggest ship in the world by gross tonnage is the crane vessel Pioneering Spirit at a staggering 403,342 GT. The ship was launched in 2013 and is used in the installation of oil platforms at sea. The largest ship in the world by length is the oil tanker Seawise Giant at 1,504 feet (458.46 meters).