Assistant Professor of Business Law Richard Kilpatrick stands outdoors in front of National University of Singapore signage

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

As an unprecedented migration crisis unfolds in the Mediterranean Sea, commercial vessels often witness boats filled with refugees crossing major shipping lanes. These boats are typically unsafe and overloaded, and commercial vessels are often first responders when the refugees need help. Commercial shipmasters and crews are legally obligated to rescue the refugees and take them to a place of safety, but these rescues have also regularly led to a sticky legal question: Who pays for the commercial costs of rescue-related shipping delays?

Northeastern Illinois University Assistant Professor of Business Law Richard Kilpatrick spent the second half of 2017 in the National University of Singapore’s Faculty of Law to research this topic and propose contractual clauses that more directly address rescue costs.

“There’s never been a rescue crisis quite like this,” said Kilpatrick, a licensed maritime lawyer. “This is unprecedented.”

Funded by the National University of Singapore, the six-month Visiting Research Fellowship in the Centre for Maritime Law gave Kilpatrick access to the world’s top experts, one of the world’s best law libraries and one of the world’s busiest sea ports.

Kilpatrick participated in a number of shipping law forums, lectures and other activities in Singapore, and gave presentations at the Asian Society of International Law Conference in South Korea and the IMO International Maritime Law Institute in Malta.

“Participating in all of these activities was really enriching,” said Kilpatrick, who visited 12 countries during his fellowship.

The full-time research gave Kilpatrick plenty of time to write. His first paper resulting from the fellowship was made available to the public in October through the National University of Singapore Working Paper Series and will be published by the Georgia Journal of International and Comparative Law in February 2018, and more are in the works.

Now back at Northeastern, Kilpatrick is teaching classes on the legal environment of business and international business law, and his experiences in Singapore are directly being applied to the classroom.

“I’m talking about contracts and I’m talking about shipping in different academic contexts,” Kilpatrick said. “Being able to really focus on my research for six months and being able to learn from other experts has given me a much broader perspective on global shipping activities. The experience has given me a more robust understanding of how other legal systems address shipping issues.”