Uniformity in Maritime Law: The Domestic Impact of International Maritime Regulation

With as much detachment as he can muster, this writer believes that a new day is dawning for American Proctors. On that day they will cite international conventional and regulatory maritime law as frequently as the domestic substantive maritime law, and courts of admiralty will as frequently decide cases upon that basis. If this prediction sounds farfetched, then recall that statutory maritime law is a comparative novelty. Until some six-score years ago, the general maritime law—which still forms the real substance of our admiralty jurisprudence—was based upon customary international law rather than domestic statute or common law. The greatest of the admiralty judges, Lord Stowell, stated clearly in one decision of 1807 that a court of admiralty is historically a court of international law, which “belongs to other nations as well as to our own; and what foreigners have a right to demand from it, is the administration of the law of nations, simply, and exclusively of the introduction of principles borrowed from our own municipal jurisprudence, to which, it is well known, they have at all times expressed no inconsiderable repugnance.”' Indeed, the application of domestic statutory maritime law (other than port regulations) to foreign merchant shipping is virtually a phenomenon of the 20th century, and the present strong growth of maritime law toward global uniformity based upon international maritime regulation should be seen as a direct reaction to the chaotic diversity of national maritime legislation. It does not matter greatly whether others in the maritime field share this writer's vision of the future; what is important is to grasp the extent to which international maritime regulation is already with us, and to recognize the forces, interests, groups, and organizations forming this rapidly growing body of maritime law.