Born at sea, mother dead, ship sunk, what citizenship?

Here’s something about which I was wondering last night.

Suppose you are a pilot in a seaplane responding to a distress call from a ship in international waters. You are the first responder. You get there to find that the ship has sunk and the sole survivors are a woman and her new-born baby (which still has the cord attached). Just as the mother hands you the baby, sharks, attracted by the bodies from the shipwreck and the childbirth, tear her to pieces. The child is clearly slightly premature - the stress of the shipwreck brought on labour.

You will later find that the ship did have a passenger and crew list, but you cannot identify the mother from that list. Nor does genetic testing help. Your memory is insufficient to create a photofit.

What nationality is the child? Yours? The ship’s captain’s? That of the nation in which the ship was registered? Where you first land?

This would seem to suggest that the baby would be considered to be the nationality of the ship.

I’d be surprised if an eight-months-pregnant woman boarding a boat wouldn’t be remembered by someone at the point of departure.

That said, the United States does give citizenship to foundlings if they’re found “in the United States” (see item (f).) It’s not immediately clear to me whether your hypothetical infant would qualify, though. If your hypothetical infant becomes a cause célèbre, I believe (someone correct me if I’m wrong) that Congress can pass laws saying “this person is a citizen of the United States”, which would make things moot.

Yeah, they can do this. I’ve read that Albert Einstein was declared a US citizen in this way. Back when Elian Gonzales was in the news, the possibility of having Congress declare him a US citizen was raised, but nothing came of it.

As far as I know, Albert Einstein became a US citizen the old-fashioned way, by moving to New Jersey and going through all the usual immigration paperwork.

A few people have been granted US citizenship by special acts of Congress- I want to say that the Marquis de Lafayette was the first and that Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg was the last.

That child better not aspire to the Presidency

Imagine if it were sailing under a flag of convienience. Enjoy your Liberian citizenship, kid!

nevermind - misread OP

Well, will the sea be on fire due to burning fuel from the sunken boat? Is there any chance the child will already have been shot by his mother who didn’t want to see him suffer? Will I have the option of firing a warning shot near him to let him know I’m serious about his repatriotization and don’t want any squirming around?

What accent would the baby have? That might be key…

(No, I’m just kidding there. My guess is, assuming there was no way to tell who the mother was, the baby would become a citizen of whichever country the rescue worker came from, or possibly the countries who had citizens as passengers on the ship would decide amongst themselves)


I don’t have an answer for the OP, but I am surprised that nobody’s made an “Anchor Baby” joke yet.

It’s not gonna be me.

The position is reasonably clear in Australian law, under the Australian Citizenship Act 2007, section 7:


Whatever happended to that kid? He’d be 17 now. His wiki page indicates that he joined the Young Communist Union of Cuba while in Junior High, and then went off to military school.

“The usual way” means moving to New Jersey?

No wonder so many folks would rather just jump the fence…

But what if the ship has a Kenyan registry? :stuck_out_tongue:

Is the fact that the ship has sunk relevant?

Is that a metaphor?