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The M/T Pollux has been hit by a Houthi missile. This has been described as "lawless" by the US State Dept.

The Houthis are describing this as a "British ship", and Reuters is referencing the referencing the UK authorities and "guns for hire" in the article. It was shipping Russian crude from Novorossiysk to an Indian refinery.

Would this ship have been a legitimate target for the Ukrainian military?

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  • M/T Pollux is flagged and registred in Panama and thus a panamanian ship.
    – Trish
    Commented Feb 17 at 11:49
  • Also, Reuters properly describes it as Panamanian, not British: "Earlier on Friday, the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) agency and British maritime security firm Ambrey said a Panama-flagged tanker had reportedly been hit 72 nautical miles (133 km) northwest of the port of Mokha, off Yemen.
    – Trish
    Commented Feb 17 at 11:53
  • As I understand it, the ownership of shipping these days is complicate and not limited to what flag it sails under. Al Jazeera is describing it as a "British oil tanker". If the flag is relevant that would be an important aspect of a question, but I suspect a Panama flag would not protect a ship sailing to Odessa.
    – User65535
    Commented Feb 17 at 11:57
  • Under the law of the sea, a ship is considered the country it is flagged under, which is where it is registered, not where the ship owner resides.
    – Trish
    Commented Feb 17 at 11:59
  • In what scenario are you imagining Ukraine might attack the ship?
    – Lag
    Commented Feb 17 at 17:23

1 Answer 1

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No

Neutral merchant ships are not a legitimate war target even if they are carrying contraband. They can legally be stopped, boarded, and, if inspection discovers contraband, seized (and scuttled once the crew is safely removed).

That said, the use of submarine warfare by many belligerents in many conflicts starting with the First World War indicates this is a law more honored in the breach than in the observance. This is a case where the law has not caught up with the reality of commerce raiding in the age of the submarine, the aircraft, the missile, and the drone.

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