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Flag of a State painted on the hull - an indication of vessel's registry?

A painted flag does not fly! That was what came out of The Siempre Malagrita [2018].

USCG had stopped a vessel (rather small in size) in international waters for drug trafficking. Upon boarding the vessel and questioning the crew members, the nationality of the vessel could not be determined as there were no documents onboard and the crew members did not make a claim of nationality of the vessel. There was a flag painted on the hull which was very close to being either a Columbian or Ecuadorian flag. USCG finally determined that the vessel was without nationality and thus US had jurisdiction. They charged the crew members with drug offenses.


One of the defenses (and a that too a novel one) raised by crew members was that the vessel was Columbian as indicated by the flag and US had no jurisdiction in International waters. One of the three ways a "claim of nationality or registry" under US Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act can be made is to “fly” the flag of the state to which the vessel belongs. The court therefore had to consider whether a “painted flag” satisfies this requirement. It found that flying requires a flag to be capable of free movement in the air and therefore painting a flag on the ship side does not suffice.



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