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Context: US seizes North Korean coal ship for violating sanctions The relevant (US) legal document is here.

The ship was detained in Indonesia for violating local maritime laws, and the captain was convicted there. The US thinks the ship violates US sanctions, and issues a warrant. So far this is understandable. But then the US gets the custody of the ship. How was it justified? Is there a legal priority given to the United States in such a capture (vs the country where the ship is detained)?

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Inter-country law enforcement is quite common.

Based on the links you provided, the US requested the Indonesians to detain the ship and then transfer it to their control for violation of US law. The Indonesians complied with that request which was presumably within the scope of their treaties with the US and their local law.

As to why they didn't seize the ship themselves there are 2 possibilities:

  1. The ship had not violated an Indonesian law that allowed seizure.
  2. They didn't want to.

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