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Part 1 The Cold War Era (1945–89), 18 The Mayaguez Incident—1975

Natalino Ronzitti

From: The Use of Force in International Law: A Case-Based Approach

Edited By: Tom Ruys, Olivier Corten, Alexandra Hofer

From: Oxford Public International Law (http://opil.ouplaw.com). (c) Oxford University Press, 2023. All Rights Reserved.date: 27 May 2024

Precedent — Territorial sea — Armed forces

This Chapter takes into consideration the Mayaguez incident, which occurred on 12 May 1975, immediately after the end of Vietnam war. The Mayaguez was a US cargo vessel accused by Cambodia of carrying out an espionage mission during its navigation off the Cambodia coast and for this reason boarded and captured by the Cambodian gunboats. The US, after having erroneously qualifying the capture as an act of piracy, intervened in rescue of their nationals and recovered the ship. The precedent raises several legal issues ranging from the law of espionage to the legality of forceful measures taken by the coastal State in its territorial sea and/or in its adjacent waters. However, the main legal value of the Mayaguez incident arises from the fact that it is considered a precedent for testing the validity of the doctrine of using armed force for rescuing nationals abroad.

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