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Ships' flags indicate what country's law applies

Anyone who has watched the ships sail in and out of Louisiana's port has noticed the many world flags that fly on these vessels. These flags have legal significance in admiralty and maritime law.

Because shipping takes vessels all over the world, admiralty law has elements of international law as well as domestic. Through various treaties and agreements over the years, shipping nations all over the world have slowly worked to standardize their admiralty laws. However, legal issues involving one vessel are, generally speaking, controlled by the country under whose flag the vessel sails. A U.S. ship sailing in the Mediterranean is subject to U.S. admiralty law, while a Chinese ship sailing in U.S. waters is subject to Chinese admiralty law.

U.S. federal courts hear admiralty cases, and can theoretically hear cases involving another government's admiralty law. However, they can and often do refuse to hear such cases.

An important point to note here is, for the flag country's law to apply, the vessel must have some real connection to the home country. That is, an American ship can't just pretend to be a Chinese vessel in order to escape American jurisdiction. The vessel must be registered in the foreign nation.

Some admiralty cases in Louisiana involve people who were injured while on board chartered boats, for fishing or recreation. However, most involve injured maritime workers. Under U.S. admiralty law, when maritime workers are injured on the job, they must pursue compensation through admiralty courts. The system is in some ways more complicated than the workers' compensation systems that provide benefits for land-based workers in Louisiana and other states. It can be important to seek out help from an attorney with experience in admiralty law.

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