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  • Naval Harassment Rather Than Naval War?

    Friends,

    I'm working on some naval wargame game scenarios and I want to keep them as plausible as possible, so I'm asking for advice about an aspect of modern naval tactics, maritime law, etc.

    If you want to give another country grief, and you figure hurting their maritime trade is a good way to do it, but you do not want to actually commit an act of war by sinking merchants, formally putting up a blockade, etc., what are your options?

    I imagine stopping ships for long searches, maybe even seizing ships (at least until a "full investigation" can be conducted, which I suppose could take months) would be one way to do it. Where are you allowed to do this? Under what circumstances can you stop, search, and even seize control of a ship in your own EEZ or the high seas? Is it limited to cases where you suspect the ship of piracy and/or being involved in the slave trade? Or are there other "just causes" for such actions.

    What else can you do to harass the shipping of another nation? I'm assuming, by the way, that the nation doing this is willing to sink the other country's ships, but wants to have a good excuse for doing so, such as returning fire in self-defense, even if the other country only shot first because it was being provoked.

    Thanks. I look forward to your replies.

    Mark

  • #2
    If you do this in international waters, it's piracy - if you do it in someone else's territorial waters, you're committing an act of war against both the ship's owners and the country involved.

    Sooner or later, you WILL start a war - and if you lose, you'll be the subject of a war crimes trial.

    Most countries guarantee the, 'Right of Innocent Passage,' allowing a foreign-registered ship to pass through their territorial waters, as long as that ship simply moves from point A to point B (via course Z (dog-leg around that island, what's happening there is no concern of yours) if necessary) and does nothing to threaten the host country.

    Abuse of the right of innocent passage is an act of war and can often result in a ship and crew being arrested, it also wouldn't be the first time that their government apologised to your government and made arrangements to have the bodies shipped home.
    Indyref2 - still, "Yes."

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    • #3
      Originally posted by the ace View Post
      If you do this in international waters, it's piracy - if you do it in someone else's territorial waters, you're committing an act of war against both the ship's owners and the country involved.

      Sooner or later, you WILL start a war - and if you lose, you'll be the subject of a war crimes trial.

      Most countries guarantee the, 'Right of Innocent Passage,' allowing a foreign-registered ship to pass through their territorial waters, as long as that ship simply moves from point A to point B (via course Z (dog-leg around that island, what's happening there is no concern of yours) if necessary) and does nothing to threaten the host country.

      Abuse of the right of innocent passage is an act of war and can often result in a ship and crew being arrested, it also wouldn't be the first time that their government apologised to your government and made arrangements to have the bodies shipped home.
      Okay, this is a good start. Thanks!

      What if the country doing the harassing is powerful? For example, say China wanted to give Vietnam grief about something. Vietnam knows not to send ships through Chinese territorial waters or contiguous waters, but ships going through the Chinese EEZ may be stopped and searched, with some excuse offered ("We have reliable intelligence you are a spy ship"). The ships are not seized, but they are delayed. Legally, what options does Vietnam have? And, at what point are they justified in simply ignoring the Chinese ships, or even shooting at them, etc. (whether or not this is a good idea).

      And if they shoot FIRST, even if they are being provoked, does that give the Chinese the right of self-defense?

      Also, what would be good excuses for China in the first place, if they are acting within their own EEZ or the high seas? Would any of these be any good (and WHERE would they be good excuses, if it matters)...

      "We have reliable intelligence that you have committed an act of piracy. We are inspecting your ship to see if you have any stolen goods."

      "We have reliable intelligence that you are surveying resources in our EEZ with the aim of illegally exploiting them. We are inspecting your ship and any instruments aboard to to determine if this is the case."

      "We have reliable intelligence that you are carrying weapons to terrorists. We are inspecting your ship to determine if this is the case."

      "We have reliable intelligence you are carrying weapons to a country currently under U.N. sanctions which is not allowed to receive them. We are inspecting your ship to determine if this is the case."

      "We have reliable intelligence that you are engaged in the slave trade and human trafficking. We are searching your ship for kidnapped children who have been forced into this unspeakable trade."

      "We have reliable intelligence that you are dumping toxic waste in our EEZ. We are inspecting your ship to determine if this is the case."

      "We have reliable intelligence that you are a spy ship and your presence represents a threat to our nation. We are inspecting your ship to determine if this is the case."

      This whole thing might be pretty transparent, of course, but what China (or any other nation engaged in such harassment) is really doing is exploiting loopholes. It's got one toe across the "act of war" line but has not just jumped over so people are wary about what to do in response. What happens in situations like this?

      Comment


      • #4
        Legally, each is entitled to the right of innocent passage.

        China is a pipsqueak compared to the UN, so the Vietnamese could appeal and a monitoring force would be in place before you could blink.

        NOBODY is stupid enough to bend the rules in front of witnesses and any warship crew know exactly how to maintain a watching brief without endangering the right - which is universal.

        While the EEZ is vast, most UN countries respect it, and both sides would have to be very careful that they were unobserved.

        If the Chinese maintain that they were attacked by a nation a tenth of their size and acted in self-defence, it would only be a matter of time before the air-strikes were on the way.
        Indyref2 - still, "Yes."

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by the ace View Post
          Legally, each is entitled to the right of innocent passage.

          China is a pipsqueak compared to the UN, so the Vietnamese could appeal and a monitoring force would be in place before you could blink.

          NOBODY is stupid enough to bend the rules in front of witnesses and any warship crew know exactly how to maintain a watching brief without endangering the right - which is universal.

          While the EEZ is vast, most UN countries respect it, and both sides would have to be very careful that they were unobserved.

          If the Chinese maintain that they were attacked by a nation a tenth of their size and acted in self-defence, it would only be a matter of time before the air-strikes were on the way.
          Again, this is helpful. Let me rephrase the question...

          Assuming that a country wanted to harass another country's shipping, perhaps to send a message of some kind, but wanted to avoid overt acts of war, what could they do?

          I'm assuming, by the way, that the country in question thinks it can get away with pushing the envelope. The trick is avoid going too far. For example, let's say China stops a Vietnamese merchant in its EEZ for an "inspection" and provides some bogus excuse but lets them go twelve hours later. Vietnam screams bloody murder to the U.N. Big deal. No one has actually been hurt. Some Vietnamese businesses might lose some money, but are people really going to want to get into a shooting war with China over that? A lot of people might think letting China get away with being a bully is the lesser of two evils.

          In any event, my real question is what do you think a country is likely to do (whether or not it is legal, or even a good idea) if it is trying to harass another country's maritime trade but wants to avoid an actual war?

          Comment


          • #6
            The Vietnamese might spin a few yarns about dumping nuclear waste, or other abuses of the right of innocent passage - every nation in the word would then press the UN for action.

            In international waters, they might get the, 'Piracy,' charge to stick - making the Chinese vessel responsible a fugitive.

            If the Chinese vessel puts into a neutral port, it could be seized under UN auspices - while no smaller country would willingly challenge the Chinese, if it were shown to be a UN action, China would have the stark choice of abandoning ship and crew to their fate, or making diplomatic moves to have them returned and having them charged with piracy on the high seas.

            With the world looking on, this could get very interesting.
            Indyref2 - still, "Yes."

            Comment


            • #7
              Or more likely the whereabouts of the 'pirate' ship would suddenly become 'unavailable' to outsiders. Then the captain and crew would be reassigned, then the ship would be renamed, repainted and reassigned to different duties. Then all of the paperwork would disappear.

              "In the matter of the complaint lodged by the government of Vietnam, The Peoples' Republic regrets to inform the Security Council that no such ship exists on the roles of the Peoples' Liberation Army Navy. Thank you."
              Any metaphor will tear if stretched over too much reality.

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