Why The Left – And The Media – Are Stupid 51

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.



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.

51 thoughts on “Why The Left – And The Media – Are Stupid

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  • selma

    Your attacks on ‘the left’ are quite inexcusable, Craig. We do not even know that thses people are civilians yet! Speculation about what they may have been up to if they were covert operatives is useless and counterproductive.

    The point is this: Iran is under very real threat by the west of the type of genocide we have seen in Iraq. That is a fact. If any of us were in that situation we would, I believe, assume the worst about any ‘civilian’ vessel found in our waters belonging to those who were threatening our destruction.

    The behaviour of Iran may contravene the law of the sea but, equally, their behaviour is perfectly understandable given the extenuating circumstances ( the massive military machine arrayed against them under the false (according to all evidence) claims concerning their nuclear program. Wouldnt you agree? Its not as if this is just some country giving the twos up to ‘the good guys’ who are showing inhuman restraint in the face of repeated provocation (despite what uor media and government claims).

  • lamond

    You may be interested to know that Al Jazeera has reported that those four just arrested in the Gulf are “military” men.

  • Rob Lewis

    Thanks for another great post Craig. With respect though, isn’t it a bit early to know whether Iran are or aren’t in compliance with the UN Conventions on the Law of the Sea?

    Our only information source thus far (forgive me if you have others) are the same newspapers who don’t understand the law (or are aware of its existence) in the first place.


    “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.”

    Tell that to the COs who are sending SBS lads across the Shatt al-Arab in fake turbans on rigid raiding crafts.

  • Craig


    No, I do not accept that it is OK for anybody to break international law. Your arguments are simply a mirror of Andy Hayman – everybody always justifies their abuse by claiming to be under threat.

  • MJ

    I would have thought that Article 19 gives Iran plenty of scope to claim it is acting lawfully, at least until its investigations are completed.

  • MJ

    Also, yachting competions and Grand Prix are usually seen as money-earners for the host nations. In ten years time oil-rich Ghana will be clamouring to have them too.

  • Craig


    In exactly the same way we have every right to detain Muslims without charge, until our investigations are completed…

    No, I don’t accept either argument. Certainly they had a right to board and search if they had reason to suspect something. But how long does it take to search something as stripped down as a racing yacht?

  • MJ

    “In exactly the same way we have every right to detain Muslims without charge, until our investigations are completed…”

    No, not exactly the same way, because one concerns long-standing international maritime law accepted by all nations and the other is hastily cobbled together domestic law.

    I’m not defending Iran over this, it is clearly in the wrong. I just thought Article 19 as drafted gave a lot of leeway.

  • selma

    Claiming??? Are you seriously denying that Iran is under serious threat?!!!

    Since there seem now to be contradictory reports as to the nature of these ‘yachtsmen’ your whole argument seems quite asinine.

    Furthermore, in the law of the sea as in any other area of law I would assume that extenuating circumstances are taken into account. So why is it that you feel they shouldn’t be in this case?

  • Jives

    Good article Craig-some excellent points but YOU blow it at the end by speculating what we,your commentators,might speculate!


  • Caitlyna

    Innocent passage applies regardless of whether a vessel is civilian or military. The principle of innocent passage and its application to civilian, government and military vessels has been around since the early 17th century, was codified in the 1958 Geneva Convention on the Territorial Sea and incorporated, with more clearly specified definitions, in the 1982 Convention. Beyond that, there is nothing a ship offshore might see that a plane at 12 miles couldn’t see better.

    On the other hand, the recent decision to put the Revolutionary Guard in charge of maritime activities in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, limiting the real Iranian Navy to the sea outside the Strait, suggests that in the Gulf and in the Strait revolutionary fervor is supplanting the respect of the law of the sea expected of officers in all regular navies.

  • Anne Brook


    I smell intrigue. Never in my lifetime have I heard govt. or FCO officials use lowkey rhetoric when engaging Iran. A father interviewed on BBC said (not verbatum) “I’ve spoken to my son, he was with the group they were using David Bloomer’s mobile, they remain upbeat, they are now offshore and on an island”. Does Iran have a penal island or are we talking Kish?

    Also the media line tends to suggest that the yacht left Bahrain for Dubai, ran into trouble, drifted into Irainian waters and thus never made it to Dubai. But check out the newspaper reports in the area e.g. Gulf Daily News Thursday 26th November. “Sail Bahrain members arrived yesterday in Dubai onboard the Kingdom of Bahrain race yacht to join start line of the Dubai-Muscat Offshore Sailing Race which begins today”. Was someone premature in printing article complete with photo of yacht arriving? – curiouser and curiouser!

  • A Very Public Sociologist

    Who exactly is this “left” you speak of? As someone very firmly on the left, speaks to lefties everyday, reads left blogs and websites, etc. I’ve yet to see one article acting as unpaid PR for the Iranian regime. Get a grip, Craig.

  • Roderick Russell


    The Media are not stupid as Craig suggests; what they are is weak. The hallmark of so much of the media is deference to the authorities (sometimes called toadying to the high establishment). So they need the ongoing left/right battle to establish themselves as honest arbiters of basic values to their readership. In fact, as my own case shows, they apply a double standard when the establishment pulls their chain, and cannot even stand-up for basic human rights or civil liberties. As other bloggers on this site know, my wife and I were threatened just for approaching The Guardian’s office in Manchester, which suggests that the establishment and their tame secret police tools ( MI5/6) know that they can control The Guardian any time they want (I am referring to the high establishment, not the politicians who also do what they are told)

    My own experience of The Guardian is outlined on URL:


    Yes. the Guardian courageously stands for human rights and civil liberties where the high establishment is not concerned one way or other; but where the establishment is concerned, toadying is the order of the day. Disappointing our media certainly are; but most importantly their cowardice has reached a point that their silence is not just a little hypocritical, but dangerous for democracy. Roderick Russell.

  • glenn

    Who were these lefties saying Iran was “excused” again?

    Or are we talking about a failure to utterly condemn Iran out of hand?

  • Justin

    Has Iran even signed onto the UN CONVENTION ON THE LAW OF THE SEA? I don’t believe the US has either (irrelevant here though.)

  • technicolour

    I’m MOR myself, and what a strange post.

    Describing ‘the left’ as people who will excuse anything as long as it is anti US/Zionist seems, from my experience, to be an extraordinary exaggeration.

    Of course the yachstmen should be released, now. I still (is this leftist?) fail to see the equivalence between war crimes and these people, who are apparently being ‘treated well’, not bombed with DU or white phosphorous.

    Honestly, it could make me quite cross, on behalf of all those decent left-wing people I know.

  • Malcolm Pryce

    So let me see if I’ve got this international law thing straight: if we put our soldiers on a civilian yacht the Iranians can’t arrest them? Why do we waste all that money on the naval ships then, why not just spend it on yachts?

    Hmmm. Love your posts normally Craig but this attack on ‘The Left’ seemed like a straw man job to me. But then I would say that, wouldn’t I? In fact, you predicted I would.

  • Mark Golding - Children of Iraq

    I like you Craig for your massive balls, but, I have to agree with ‘Selma’ on her mitigation of Iran’s ‘modus operandi’ and lets us not forget my ‘pusser’ mates got fags and new suits not ‘water-boarding’ and bollock crushing.

  • Roderick Russell

    Just as a follow up to my comment on The Guardian, I’ve just received this comment and thought perhaps that I should share it – “during the senate church hearings in the 70’s, the cia admitted it had paid journalists everywhere and could get any story into any paper on a day’s notice”

    It does seem to me that our MI5/6 are far more sophisticated today than the CIA were back then, and could teach the CIA a thing or two about abusing civil liberties and human rights at home (if not in the developing world). I cannot disagree with Craig’s view that the left is too concerned with anti-Americanism (and anti-CIA) to look fairly at other issues such as abuses at home by our own intelligence services (and establishment) more critically. Roderick Russell

  • glenn

    This should please Craig – a notorious lefty called Thom Hartmann has a complete blind spot for Israeli atrocities, and absolutely loves America as an article of faith (he is American). He’s got an excellent radio show which airs down in Ghana – on Radio Builsa, broadcasting out of Sandema on FM 106.5.

    It’s worth listening to Hartmann to dispel wooly notions about all lefties hating America/Israel etc. etc. while they excuse every last act of the likes of Ahmadinejad. The programme is on at 17:00GMT for three hours on weekdays, and so should be on right now.

    Seriously, it’s well worth listening to. Even if a Iran-loving hard-left American hating Marxist like myself has to grit the teeth now and then. Personally, I prefer Mike Malloy, who pulls no punches and tells it like it is, but he’s not broadcasting in Ghana.

  • Friend or Foe

    I’m sure Abe Rene would be singing a very different tune if it had been the Royal Navy arresting five Iranians on a boat.

    Can’t see Abe Rene calling for their immediate release, somehow.

    Such sickening hypocrisy.

    Is this Crawford in disguise I wonder….

  • see the world

    The Iranian Revolutionary Guard are apparently holding these sailors in quite good conditions and allowing them to phone their families. When the Iranians held the British military sailors, they treated them very well too. Not sure how well we or the Americans would treat Iranian military caught in British or American waters.

    Anyway, the Iranians are also holding three American “hikers” who managed to get “lost” on the Iraq/Iran border, as ya do. These hikers have been held in prison since July and are to be charged with espionage.

    It seems the Iranians are able to differentiate between error and intent, even when their country is under such mortal danger from the West.

    I’m surprised the Iranians are so restrained when their country is obviously under such continual threat from the West’s spooks. I know we wouldn’t be.

  • rwendland

    Craig, However the UK use similar logic to the Iranians in the British Indian Ocean Territory (Diego Garcia). The FCO’s BritRep Notice to Mariners says:

    “Please note, that under BIOT law any person who enters the Territory, including its 3 mile wide territorial waters, without a permit is liable to imprisonment for up to 3 Years and/or a fine up to 3000 Pound.”

    The Guardian reports that two demonstrators were arrested at sea off Diego Garcia on that basis:

    “A Foreign Office spokesman confirmed last night that two men had been detained “after entering the waters illegally”.”

    An academic on Radio 4 lunchtime today said that innocent passage could only be relied on if you had a genuine reason to need that passage – which I guess is also the FCO view re Diego Garcia. Though if the yacht was having difficulties that should be a genuine reason.



  • quis

    That was a good read about Gardiner. If he knows any of those people he’s written about, without mentioning his conflict of interest, then I can’t see that even the BBC could withstand a complaint about bias.

    It’s disgraceful that the public is compelled to fund this propaganda outfit.

    Make your complaint here:


    Be very specific about the story you’re complaining about and detail the connections Frank has with characters in the story, which he hasn’t mentioned.

    All the lovely details are here:


    Interesting nexus of bankers, spooks and mercenaries, and of course media.

  • Abe Rene

    Friend or Foe:

    Keep your speculative judgments about the inner views of individuals about hypothetical situations to yourself. I won’t waste time on them.

    As for the boatmen, it’s too late for gunboat diplomacy with these civilians because they’ve been taken into Iran, therefore diplomacy is the only solution. But it may be time for the Royal Navy to begin patrolling the Arabian Gulf, and respond with force the next time any Iranian naval force threatens British subjects. It’s about time that Iran learned a lesson.

  • Arsalan Goldberg

    I don’t think this country and its government controlled press are going to make a big deal about international law, because it would make them look like idiots since this country and its American masters sees itself as above international law.

    And if they do make a point out of it and state people are allowed to enter waters of other nations, what do you think would happen the next time someone enters British waters and is captured?

    Wouldn’t that make them look like bigger idiots?

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