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Flag Right Convention of 1921

Last modified: 2011-12-23 by rob raeside
Keywords: flag use | maritime flag use |
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While browsing through some legal database, I noticed that Croatia, among other inherited multilateral conventions and other obligatory documents inherited from previous countires has one regarding flags or ensigns.

My translation of the name of the convention is this:

The Convention and the Statutes on the free transit and Declaration on recognition of rights to a flag to the states without the sea coast, Bercelona, 20 April 1921.
Željko Heimer, 10 July 2007

This Declaration, at least, was very brief.


The undersigned, duly authorised for the purpose, declare that the States which they represent recognize the flag flown by the vessels of any State having no sea coast which are registered at some one specified place situated in its territory; such place shall serve as the port of registry of such vessels.

Barcelona, the twentieth day of April nineteen hundred and twenty- one, done in a single copy, of which the English and French texts shall be authentic.

The same, in French

Déclaration portant reconnaissance du droit au pavillon des Etats dépourvus de littoral

Les soussignés, dûment autorisés à cet effet, déclarent que les Etats qu'ils représentent reconnaissent le pavillon des navires de tout Etat qui n'a pas de littoral maritime, lorsqu'ils sont enregistrés en un lieu unique déterminé, situé sur son territoire; ce lieu constituera pour ces navires le port d'enregistrement. Barcelone, le 20 avril 1921, fait en un seul exemplaire dont les textes français et anglais font également foi.

Australia Treaty Library
Federal Authorities of the Swiss Confederation (PDF in French)

Jan Mertens, 10 July 2007

The background to this is set out in International Law of the Sea by Higgins & Colombos. "States without a sea-board."

As we have seen, a merchant ship on the high seas must possess the right to fly the flag of a particular State. Before the war of 1914-18, there was some doubt as to whether a State without a sea-board could claim the right to a maritime flag. The question was raised in Switzerland several times, but on each occasion the Swiss Federal Council declined to give permission to Swiss subjects to use the national flag at sea. They were consequently compelled to use the flag of some other State. The reasons given by those who were opposed to the use of a maritime flag by inland countries were that the ships were dependent on the goodwill of other nations for the use of their ports, and that the responsibility which results from a ship's nationality can only be real if the ship belongs to a port of a State and that on her return to that State the captain, crew and passengers could be punished for any offences they may have committed at sea. However, under the Treaty of Versailles, 1919, the High Contracting Parties agreed to recognise the flag flown by the vessels of an allied or associated Power having no sea-board which are registered at some one specified place situated in its territory, which was to serve as the port of registry of such vessels (art. 278). The Treaty of Saint-Germain, (1919) (art. 225); the Treaty of Trianon (1920) (art. 209); and the Treaty of Neuilly (1919) (art. 158) similarly grant to all the contracting Powers the privilege of recognition of their respective flags. At Barcelona, the States which had participated in the Conference on Communications and Transit, signed on April 20, 1921, adopted a "Declaration" which substantially incorporates the provisions contained in the Peace Treaties, by recognising the right to a flag of the vessels of States having no sea-coast which are registered at some one specified place situated in their territory; such place shall serve as the port of registry of such vessels. The principle of the recognition of the flag of a non-maritime State has thus been accepted by a large body of Powers.

David Prothero, 14 July 2007