Well, it's academic, Ann, for US flagged vessels.
In February 2007, the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston granted the U.S. Coast Guard the authority to force a master to abandon ship if, in the judgment of the Coast Guardsmen on scene
, the vessel is in imminent peril.
In the case which established this precedent, the master of a 144' fishing
vessel had radioed the USCG to see if they would supply him some pumps. Some of the crew requested to be transferred to the USCG vessels when they arrived with the pump.
The vessel's captain at no time issued a Mayday
, as he and other key crew members intended to stay with the boat and execute an apparently workable plan to control the ingress of water
. (Involving closing off watertight doors confining the flooding to two compartments at the stern, having now been able to confirm that the damage was confined to those compartments)
The USCG refused to discuss this and ordered the remaining crew to abandon. The vessel's captain
testified in court that he was told "if he did not cooperate, the Coast Guard would "subdue [him] physically" in order to take him off"
Consequently the vessel sank in a matter of hours, and the vessel's owner (who had been denied the opportunity to get salvage
tugs to possibly save the vessel) sued the Coast Guard, alleging, in part, that the Coast Guard had acted outside its authority by forcing the evacuation.
The U.S. Department of Justice, which represented the Coast Guard, argued that Congress has granted the Coast Guard complete discretion in how it conducts its search-and-rescue operations. A district court judge agreed. The boat's owner appealed.
With one quite strongly worded dissenting opinion, that appeal was denied 2 to 1.
So that's where things stand, presumably unless Congress decides to clip the USCG's powers. Which I, for one, cannot see them having any enthusiasm for.