Nationality of the parties will not have any effect on admiralty jurisdiction, unless otherwise provided in any statute or treaty. Further admiralty also has jurisdiction on all vessels or structures capable of navigating. In an admiralty suit between foreigners, the District Court has the discretion to refuse to retain jurisdiction, and such the exercise of its discretion will not be disturbed unless abused.[i] If the person or thing involved is within reach of the court’s process, then there is admiralty jurisdiction. However, the court can apply the doctrine of forum non conveniens or decline exercise of jurisdiction when it is not advisable to take jurisdiction.
In United Rope Distribs. v. Seatriumph Marine Corp., 930 F.2d 532, 534 (7th Cir. Wis. 1991), the court held that the question is whether the court possesses a legitimate claim to exercise force over the defendant. A district court in federal admiralty claims can declare jurisdiction over a foreign shipbuilder based upon a combination of contacts with two states or contacts between the defendant or the defendant’s transactions and the forum.[ii]
The American admiralty court can exercise jurisdiction on a foreign vessel while on high seas. But the existence and nature of a cause of action will be governed by the law of the flag of that foreign vessel.[iii] Further, a treaty can also alter the court’s ability to exercise jurisdiction. Therefore if there is a treaty which provides any exclusive remedy for suit against a foreign national, an admiralty court is barred from exercising jurisdiction over a foreign national.[iv] In such a case that treaty will be considered as the exclusive source of the party’s liability.[v]
[i] C.A. Seguros Orinoco v. Naviera Transpapel, C.A., 677 F. Supp. 675, 684 (D.P.R. 1988)
[ii] Lisak v. Mercantile Bancorp, Inc., 834 F.2d 668 (7th Cir. Ill. 1987)
[iii] Anglo-American Grain Co. v. The S/T Mina D’Amico, 169 F. Supp. 908 (E.D. Va. 1959)
[iv]Gayda v. Lot Polish Airlines, 702 F.2d 424, 425 (2d Cir. N.Y. 1983)
[v] Stanford v. Kuwait Airways Corp., 648 F. Supp. 657 (S.D.N.Y. 1986)