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A complex of laws, agreements, and treaties referred to as marine law, sometimes known as admiralty law, regulates open water offences, shipping, and other maritime activities. The Law of the Sea refers to international regulations that control how the oceans and seas are used.
In the majority of developed countries, marine law has its own set of rules and operates separately from national legislation. The navies and coast guards of nations that have ratified the treaty outlining these rules may enforce a number of conventions that the United Nations (UN) has issued through the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).
Many insurance claims involving ships and cargo, civil disputes involving shipowners, seamen, and passengers, and piracy are governed by maritime law. The registration, licensing, and inspection processes for ships and shipping contracts, maritime insurance, and the transportation of goods and people are also governed by maritime law.
It is possible to trace the beginnings of marine law all the way back to ancient Egypt. Ships were used to move commodities back then, and there were strict regulations in place to ensure trade was fair and safe, as well as to resolve disputes between parties.
But the earliest documented account of formal codes wasn’t discovered until much later. Between 900 and 300 B.C., the Rhodian Sea Laws were created, establishing regulations for the Mediterranean Sea. These regulations governed maritime commerce in the region, had an impact on the Romans, and were in force for a very long time.
The next centuries saw a slow evolution of European marine law. The Consulate of the Sea, the Rolls of Oléron, and the early English admiralty rules—which later influenced the laws of the sea in the United States—were important developments that influenced contemporary legislation.