I will never understand why so many on the political left will excuse any bad behaviour by anybody so long as their general stance is anti-US foreign policy and anti-Zionist. I write this as somebody who is firmly anti-US foreign policy and anti-Zionist.
Why is it that the left cannot see that it voids their entire argument, if they claim (correctly) that Blair and Bush were in breach of international law, and are war criminals, but that Iran does not need to respect international law?
Why is it that people who rightly see that it is wrong for Muslims to be detained without trial in the UK just because they are Muslims, cannot see that it is wrong for Britons to be detained without trial in Iran just because they are Britons? Why can they not see that the “They must have been up to something” argument used by the right in relation to the arrest of innocent student Muslims in Manchester, is precisely the same as the “they must have been up to something” argument used by the left in relation to the British yachtsmen in the Gulf?
The answer is – because they are as stupid and blinkered as the right. The left may have a less selfish world view, but it does not protect against the blind prejudice inculcated by self-righteousness.
The media are equally stupid. Amazingly, if you do a google news search on the term “innocent passage”, you get not one result. In all the acres of media coverage there has not been a single mention of what in fact is the law applicable to this situation.
UN CONVENTION ON THE LAW OF THE SEA
Right of innocent passage
Subject to this Convention, ships of all States, whether coastal or land-locked, enjoy the right of innocent passage through the territorial sea.
Meaning of passage
1. Passage means navigation through the territorial sea for the purpose of:
(a) traversing that sea without entering internal waters or calling at a roadstead or port facility outside internal waters; or
(b) proceeding to or from internal waters or a call at such roadstead or port facility.
2. Passage shall be continuous and expeditious. However, passage includes stopping and anchoring, but only in so far as the same are incidental to ordinary navigation or are rendered necessary by force majeure or distress or for the purpose of rendering assistance to persons, ships or aircraft in danger or distress.
Meaning of innocent passage
1. Passage is innocent so long as it is not prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal State. Such passage shall take place in conformity with this Convention and with other rules of international law.
2. Passage of a foreign ship shall be considered to be prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal State if in the territorial sea it engages in any of the following activities:
(a) any threat or use of force against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of the coastal State, or in any other manner in violation of the principles of international law embodied in the Charter of the United Nations;
(b) any exercise or practice with weapons of any kind;
(c) any act aimed at collecting information to the prejudice of the defence or security of the coastal State;
(d) any act of propaganda aimed at affecting the defence or security of the coastal State;
(e) the launching, landing or taking on board of any aircraft;
(f) the launching, landing or taking on board of any military device;
(g) the loading or unloading of any commodity, currency or person contrary to the customs, fiscal, immigration or sanitary laws and regulations of the coastal State;
(h) any act of wilful and serious pollution contrary to this Convention;
(i) any fishing activities;
(j) the carrying out of research or survey activities;
(k) any act aimed at interfering with any systems of communication or any other facilities or installations of the coastal State;
(l) any other activity not having a direct bearing on passage.
Duties of the coastal State
1. The coastal State shall not hamper the innocent passage of foreign ships through the territorial sea except in accordance with this Convention. In particular, in the application of this Convention or of any laws or regulations adopted in conformity with this Convention, the coastal State shall not:
(a) impose requirements on foreign ships which have the practical effect of denying or impairing the right of innocent passage; or
(b) discriminate in form or in fact against the ships of any State or against ships carrying cargoes to, from or on behalf of any State.
2. The coastal State shall give appropriate publicity to any danger to navigation, of which it has knowledge, within its territorial sea.
You can read the whole thing here.
For those who watch too many James Bond films, there is nothing you can see from the deck of a racing yacht that cannot be seen better by the surveillance satellites constantly trained on Iran or from the very sophisticated equipment on board the US and UK naval ships just outside Iran’s territorial seas.
For me, a major interest in this story, in the light of the Dubai magic money collapse, is another example of how vast wealth is frittered away in the Gulf on things like racing yachts and Grand Prix. That squittering away of money seems very real as I sit here in Accra working on ideas for development and poverty alleviation.
David Milliband, rather than insist on the right of innocent passage, has decided to take a low key approach in the hope that Iran lets the sailors go. I am not sure that will work. There is no fun for Ahmadinejad if we do not get hysterical about it, as we did about the naval sailors – and in that case we were in the wrong. This time we are in the right. Perversely that may make it harder rather than easier for Iran to back down.
However there are potentially highly damaging consequences to the whole system of world navigation if we simply accept the right of states to ban foreign vessels from their territorial seas. Not mentioning innocent passage sets a bad precedent on which others will be keen to seize
This is not theory. I was involved in the negotiation on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, and at one stage was the Leader of the UK Delegation to the Preparatory Commission on UNCLOS. Indonesia for one is very keen indeed to assert rights to ban navigation through its territorial waters – which would be potentially an economic disaster for Australia. Look at a map.
Iran should let these sailors go on their way. And the left should stop making fools of themselves. But doubtless they still will make fools of themselves in comments below.