Volume 48
Issue 3
Spring '17

Floating Armories: A Legal Grey Area in Arms Trade and the Law of the Sea

Written By: Alexis Wilpon


In response to maritime piracy concerns, shippers often hire armed guards to protect their ships. However, due to national and international laws regarding arms trade, ships are often unable to dock in foreign ports with weapons and ammunition. As a response, floating armories operate as weapons and ammunition storage facilities in international waters. By operating solely in international waters, floating armories avoid national and international laws regarding arms trade. However, there is a significant lack of regulations governing floating armories, and this leads to serious safety concerns including lack of standardized weapon storage, lack of records documenting the transfer of weapons and ammunitions, and lack of regulation from flags of convenience. Further, there is no publically available registry of floating armories and so the number of floating armories operating alongside the quantity of arms and ammunition on board is unknown. This Note suggests several solutions that will increase the transparency and safety of floating armories. Such solutions include requirements that floating armory operators register their vessels only to states in which a legitimate relationship exists, minimum standards that operators must follow, and the creation of a publically available registry. Finally, it concludes by providing alternative mechanisms by which states may exercise jurisdiction over foreign vessels operating in the High Seas.

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