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SECTION V : NEUTRAL MERCHANT VESSELS AND CIVIL AIRCRAFT
Neutral merchant vessels
67. Merchant vessels flying the flag of neutral States may not be attacked unless they:
(a) are believed on reasonable grounds to be carrying contraband or breaching a blockade, and after prior warning they intentionally and clearly refuse to stop, or intentionally and clearly resist visit, search or capture;
(b) engage in belligerent acts on behalf of the enemy;
(c) act as auxiliaries to the enemy s armed forces;
(d) are incorporated into or assist the enemy s intelligence system;
(e) sail under convoy of enemy warships or military aircraft; or
(f) otherwise make an effective contribution to the enemy s military action, e.g., by carrying military materials, and it is not feasible for the attacking forces to first place passengers and crew in a place of safety. Unless circumstances do not permit, they are to be given a warning, so that they can re-route, off-load, or take other precautions.
the definition of piracy under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, section 101, is clear that piracy can only occur where there are “illegal acts of violence or detention” that are “committed for private ends.” Israeli actions were legal under the law of armed conflict (as evidenced by the San Remo Manual) and in any event, were not committed for private ends. Anyone using the term piracy to describe the Israeli action is clearly not aware of international law on the subject.
* A maritime blockade is in effect off the coast of Gaza. Such blockade has been imposed, as Israel is currently in a state of armed conflict with the Hamas regime that controls Gaza, which has repeatedly bombed civilian targets in Israel with weapons that have been smuggled into Gaza via the sea.
* Maritime blockades are a legitimate and recognized measure under international law that may be implemented as part of an armed conflict at sea.
* A blockade may be imposed at sea, including in international waters, so long as it does not bar access to the ports and coasts of neutral States.
* The naval manuals of several western countries, including the US and England recognize the maritime blockade as an effective naval measure and set forth the various criteria that make a blockade valid, including the requirement of give due notice of the existence of the blockade.
* In this vein, it should be noted that Israel publicized the existence of the blockade and the precise coordinates of such by means of the accepted international professional maritime channels. Israel also provided appropriate notification to the affected governments and to the organizers of the Gaza protest flotilla. Moreover, in real time, the ships participating in the protest flotilla were warned repeatedly that a maritime blockade is in effect.
* Here, it should be noted that under customary law, knowledge of the blockade may be presumed once a blockade has been declared and appropriate notification has been granted, as above.
* Under international maritime law, when a maritime blockade is in effect, no boats can enter the blockaded area. That includes both civilian and enemy vessels.
* A State may take action to enforce a blockade. Any vessel that violates or attempts to violate a maritime blockade may be captured or even attacked under international law. The US Commander’s Handbook on the Law of Naval Operations sets forth that a vessel is considered to be in attempt to breach a blockade from the time the vessel leaves its port with the intention of evading the blockade.
* Note that the protesters indicated their clear intention to violate the blockade by means of written and oral statements. Moreover, the route of these vessels indicated their clear intention to violate the blockade in violation of international law.
* Given the protesters explicit intention to violate the naval blockade, Israel exercised its right under international law to enforce the blockade. It should be noted that prior to undertaking enforcement measures, explicit warnings were relayed directly to the captains of the vessels, expressing Israel’s intent to exercise its right to enforce the blockade.
Survival is the priority of every free nation.
The International Institute of Humanitarian Law is an independent, non-profit humanitarian organisation founded in 1970. Its headquarters are situated in Villa Ormond, Sanremo, Italy. A liaison office of the Institute is established in Geneva, Switzerland. The main purpose of the Institute is to promote the development of international humanitarian law, human rights, refugee law, immigration law and related issues.
Using a tannoy, Tokalak told the approaching craft that his ship was in international waters and carried nothing illegal. He said the other captains did the same.
The Israelis threatened to open fire and sink them, he said.
The Israelis have said their soldiers opened fire only when they boarded the Mavi Marmara and came under attack from pro-Palestinian activists, but Tokalak saw events differently.
“They started shooting directly at Mavi Marmara. They didn’t care if it was the front or back of the ship,” he said.
Empty Life Jackets
Tokalak saw smoke rising from the ship and the helicopters descending. “I thought they would sink the ship.”
“The captain of Mavi Marmara said he was wounded and there were others on his ship who were also wounded. He sounded panicked and we got panicked too.”