Under international law - is the ship flagged under one state, say Sweden, the territory or under the sovereignty of that state (A)?

And thus: does an act of piracy, specifically by the armed forces/navy of another state (B), for example Israel, constitute an act of war and an act of aggression against the state (A) under which the ship is flagged - given that state (A) has not allowed state (B) to board the ship?

If so, is Sweden and Israel currently in a de jure state of war, even though it is not in a de facto state of war?

If it is not piracy, has Israel committed an act of war against Sweden by boarding the ship? Given that the blockade has been declared illegal by ICRC, UNHCR, the Goldstone Report, the European Parliament, etc.

  • 3
    Link to news story about Israel boarding a ship flagged as Swedish?
    – cpast
    Jul 1, 2015 at 16:37
  • 4
    ProTip: a bunch of terrorist supporters voting to call something "illegal" doesn't make it "illegal".
    – user4012
    Jul 6, 2015 at 14:20
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    Yes, that terrorist supporter called the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)... If you have nothing to contribute, don't. It is beyond me how you got 15k reputation with that attitude.
    – Centril
    Jul 6, 2015 at 14:27
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    @DVK I believe it's several International laws and treaties -- overseen by the UN, the Red Cross and the International Court in Hauge -- that label it as "illegal"... both conducting an illegal blockade, and boarding neutral wessels in International waters! Of course Israel and the International Court and the others hasn't always seen eye-to-eye, but that says more about Israel and their genocide against the Palestinians than anything else. Jul 7, 2015 at 23:19
  • 4
    @DVK Actually, Yes! It is the ICRC that oversees that the Geneva Conventions are followed, as well as the San Remo protocol which deals with war at sea -- including how tocorrectly declare and hold a blockade, the rules in International Waters, and how neutral shipping is protected even during a blcokade! Jul 7, 2015 at 23:25

1 Answer 1


Acts of piracy cannot be committed by a warship if the crew has not mutinied. It is literally not possible; piracy is defined by UNCLOS (article 101) as

(a) any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation, committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or a private aircraft, and directed:

(i) on the high seas, against another ship or aircraft, or against persons or property on board such ship or aircraft;

(ii) against a ship, aircraft, persons or property in a place outside the jurisdiction of any State;

The only time piracy applies to warships is if the crew has mutinied (UNCLOS article 102) (if a crew hasn't mutinied but are attacking vessels for private ends, that's a matter for diplomats and internal discipline; warships are immune from any jurisdiction but their own). Official action by a navy isn't piracy; it's pretty much the exact opposite of it.

That means the applicable law is the law of blockades. It is well-established customary international law that belligerents may blockade their enemies, and that the blockade applies to neutral shipping containing military goods. Whether it applies to neutrals carrying non-military goods is not quite settled; however, the fact that the neutrals are neutrals doesn't stop a blockading power from boarding them to ensure they're not carrying contraband.

There has been historical debate over blockades applying in international waters. However, actual practice, generally accepted, is that if a neutral ship is carrying contraband to a belligerent, it can be stopped in international waters. This is one of the tradeoffs a neutral power makes -- it needs to actually be neutral, and one part of neutrality is accepting that your ships are subject to blockades by one belligerent if carrying things to another.

Now, an illegal blockade may be an act of war. That still doesn't mean Sweden and Israel are in a state of war. Acts of war do not instantly trigger a war; wars only happen when the countries actually decide to enter wars. All an act of war can do is give the victim a valid reason to declare war; it does not actually force them to declare it.

  • What about: The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) defines piracy as: the act of boarding any vessel with an intent to commit theft or any other crime, and with an intent or capacity to use force in furtherance of that act. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piracy#International_law ICRC, Amenesty International, The EU parliament, a UNHCR report chaired by an ICC judge all found the blockade to be illegal. So act of war =/ state of war. But has Israel committed an act of war against Sweden?
    – Centril
    Jul 1, 2015 at 17:11
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    To follow the wiki link to the IMB page, it specifically mentions that piracy is for private ends. It's not a trivial distinction: the core of the crime of piracy is that it's done for private ends, and not under the authority of a state. A naval action can't be piracy any more than an arrest can be kidnapping.
    – cpast
    Jul 1, 2015 at 17:24
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    That settles it then - how about the issue of an act of war & illegal blockade? Does making an illegal blockade constitute an act of war?
    – Centril
    Jul 1, 2015 at 17:26
  • An Act of War is not a de jure matter. Sweden must actively declare war on Isreal citing the blockade as Causus Belli (lit. Case for War) which is termed an Act of War. As for the Blockade, the legality is still up in the air and depends on individual nations. For example, the Brazillian Blockade of Rio de la Plat in 1826 was a legal blockade under British Law, but not US or French, both of whom threatened to return fire on blockade ships that tried to stop their ships. International Law is not as concrete as domestic laws.
    – hszmv
    Jan 24, 2019 at 19:58

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