The term “international waters” refers to bodies of water that aren’t contained within the boundaries of any country. Most countries claim the water surrounding their land mass and any crimes committed there are subject to laws of that country. But there is a lot of ocean space that no one country claims, therefore the laws are unclear. Things like piracy, illegal dumping of waste, and illegal fishing often take place in international waters.
Even if a crime does take place, the chances of it being investigated thoroughly is pretty slim. Most of the time anyone who can help is thousands of miles away, and that means any evidence is probably going to be gone before it can be collected. Dumping a body in the middle of the ocean is an almost guarantee that it will never be found since finding the exact location a crime was committed is near impossible.
Plane crashes and shipwrecks are two more things that are likely to end up in huge losses of life when they happen in international waters because in the middle of the ocean, help isn’t close enough to make a difference. Here are 10 shocking things that have happened in international waters.
10. Quadruple Murder Caught on Video
Last year, a video was recovered from a cellphone that was left behind in a taxi in Suva, Fiji. It depicts several men who are floating in the ocean being shot and killed. The identities of the men and their murderers are still unknown, but the events are believed to have taken place in the Indian Ocean sometime in 2012 or 2013. Despite the shooters’ faces being shown in the video, they have never been found and therefore have never been charged with murder. Since the murders happened in international waters, law enforcement is reluctant to take on the case. There were no bodies found and the exact location is impossible to pinpoint. Taiwanese authorities believe the murders had something to do with piracy, but it’s just as likely that the men were local fishermen in the wrong place at the wrong time. Chances are, their murders will go unpunished.
9. The Sinking of the SS Arandora Star
During World War II, the SS Arandora Star was assigned to transport German and Italian internees and prisoners of war to Canada. On July 2, 1940, the ship was hit by a single torpedo fired from U-boat U-47. The commander of the submarine thought the torpedo was faulty, but it detonated when it hit Arandora’s starboard side and flooded the engine room. Some of the lifeboats were damaged on impact, and half the passengers on board were too afraid to leave the sinking ship, preferring to go down with it rather than get on a lifeboat. 865 people were killed.
The Gulf of Aden is located in the Arabian Sea between Yemen and Somalia. Somalian pirates are extremely common in the area, and if you’ve seen the Tom Hanks film Captain Phillips, you get the gist of what those pirates are capable of. Thanks to the Somali Civil War, and the reduced ability of local fisherman to make a living, groups of men band together to hijack large ships and hold them for ransom. They hold the crew at gun point and take control of the ship. Hostages are often killed if they fight back, and some report being tortured and starved.
7. Rum Running During Prohibition
Finding a way to import liquor during Prohibition was a huge business in the 1920s. “Rum row” was the name given to a row of ships that were anchored just beyond the maritime limit of the United States. Smugglers would sneak Caribbean rum from the ships into various U.S city ports especially in New Jersey, San Francisco, and New Orleans. It was a dangerous but lucrative business and since it was already illegal, crimes like hijackings, theft, and murder often went unreported and unpunished. It was all just part of the risk you took when you were illegally importing liquor.
6. EgyptAir Flight 990 Crash
On October 31, 1999, a Boeing 767 flying a regular route from Los Angeles to Cairo, Egypt crashed into the Atlantic Ocean about 60 miles south of Nantucket Island, Massachusetts. All 217 passengers aboard, including 21 Canadians and 100 Americans, were killed. Since the crash occurred on international waters, the investigation responsibility fell to the Egyptian Civil Aviation Authority. Their final report determined that the crash was caused by mechanical failure, but the National Transportation Safety Board disagreed. Their investigation concluded that the crash was deliberately caused by Gameel A-Batouti, the co-pilot on the flight. To this day, EgyptAir denies their pilot crashed the plane on purpose.
5. Bombing of the RMS Laconia
On September 12, 1942, the RMS Laconia, which was carrying 2,732 crew members, POW’s, and soldiers was torpedoed and sunk by German U-boat U-156 off the coast of West Africa. When the Germans realized the ship was carrying mostly civilians, they launched a rescue effort. But then a U.S Army Air Corps bomber flew overhead and attacked the submarine forcing them to crash dive and leave all the survivors behind. The events led to something called the “Laconia Order” which forbade submarines from rescuing survivors of torpedoed ships from then on.
4. Loss of Submarine USS Thresher
The USS Thresher was a U.S Navy nuclear powered attack submarine that was lost on April 10, 1963 during deep dive tests. 129 crew members were killed and the event led to the Navy implementing a more rigorous submarine safety program called SUBSAFE. The Thresher sank because of a domino effect of failures including a ruptured pipe joint, and a flooded engine room. The submarine likely imploded at a depth of 1300-2000 feet. The Thresher remains at the bottom of the ocean with one nuclear reactor still intact.
3. The Sinking of the Titanic
The RMS Titanic was a British passenger liner that sank on April 15, 1912 after colliding with an iceberg during its maiden voyage across the Atlantic. More than 1500 passengers and crew were lost due to the fact that there were only enough lifeboats on board for about half the ship’s passengers. The ship took 2 hours and 40 minutes to sink, and when help finally arrived, only about 700 survivors were recovered. The majority of survivors were women and children from first and second class, while most crew members, and men from third class died. The sinking of Titanic is still one of the deadliest commercial peacetime maritime disasters of all time.
2. The Disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
On March 8, 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Since the last known communication with the plane was somewhere over the Indian Ocean, authorities have had a very difficult time determining what really happened. The search for wreckage has turned up very little, but it’s presumed that the plane went down and all 239 people aboard were killed. Since the bulk of the plane has yet to be located, theories have ranged from terrorism, to pilot error, to mechanical failure. As of now, only one piece of wreckage has been found, and sonar experts are still searching for evidence at the bottom of the ocean.
1. Whaleship Essex Sunk By a Sperm Whale
The real-life story that inspired Herman Melville’s Moby Dick was that of the Essex, an American whaleship from Nantucket. In 1820, the ship, captained by George Pollard Jr. was attacked by a huge sperm whale and sunk 2000 nautical miles west of South America. The surviving crew members had to band together and sail on badly damaged whaleboats (which are much smaller and not meant for long distances) to safety. Slowly they died one by one of starvation and dehydration until the remaining men decided they would have to resort to cannibalism to survive. Eight men survived months lost at sea by eating seven of their former crew mates.