Info: I have a story idea that takes place roughly 100 years in the future where sea steads (ocean cities) exist. There are several different kinds of settlements, one of which is a Corporate City. Corporate Cities are where corporations research or build things that regulations on land based nations would limit or prevent from doing so. Many nations including the US allow these independent city states to roam freely in international waters and allow them safe harbor on scheduled visits in designated cities.

Question: How would the US military react if a Corporate City began drifting/sailing towards their waters and lands unannounced? What sort of military jargon would they use in conversation and what steps would they take to make sure it doesn't beach itself or crash into another city or ship? Would they send troops and ships to secure it or use jets and ships to destroy it?

On a side note, in my story, the US is divided into at least two, most likely three nations, that don't particularly like each other. The nation where the city washes up has a decentralized government where each state operates on its own, similar to the European Union of today in case that might change things.

Extra Info: For the stories purposes the city is abandoned, has radio silence, is without power, parts of it are on fire, and its research labs are destroyed. If they board they may find corpses (I haven't decided yet) that are either burned from the fire, or have an unknown cause of death. The burned ones would also be determined to not have died by the fire and have an unknown reason for dieing. The military may also find through manifests that small sections of the city have gone missing. The sections in question having advanced super and quantum style computers, data banks, and the generators required to power them.

Please And Thank You

  • $\begingroup$ the first to react would be the coast guard, other military would not be pulled into the situation unless it proves too much to handle for the coast guard alone. This link provides some insights into how radio communication works, though maybe not to the extent you wanted : navcen.uscg.gov/?pageName=mtBoater $\endgroup$ – Martine Votvik Jun 15 '16 at 15:05
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    $\begingroup$ here is a link to some coast guard slang: uscg.mil/sealegs/terms.asp $\endgroup$ – Martine Votvik Jun 15 '16 at 15:07
  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to the site Devin. If you are looking for more info on the site check out the help center and feel free (once you have 20 rep) to join us in Worldbuilding Chat $\endgroup$ – James Jun 15 '16 at 15:36
  • $\begingroup$ @MartineVotvik Thank you :). That does help especially the slang and terminology. Do you think the coast guard would actually board the city or would they tow it to a harbor or out to sea and let the navy/army sweep through it? $\endgroup$ – Devin Jun 15 '16 at 17:04
  • $\begingroup$ I'm thinking that I should write a military protocol that takes precedent over the coast guard in the event of a distressed city, but I'm curious to what others think would happen. $\endgroup$ – Devin Jun 15 '16 at 17:06

This sorta already happens, big tanker or cargo ships sometimes get abandoned at sea and drift. For most countries, this is a Coast Guard mission. Here is an example with Canada securing a drifting Russian ship (https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2014/10/17/russian_ship_carrying_fuel_adrift_off_bc_coast.html)

So intercepting the approaching ship, determining that no one is responding to radio or loudspeaker hails, and then a fly-over via helicopter or drone would be SOP. If there is no evidence of hi-jacking, distress, or people on board at all, a boarding party would attempt to secure the ship. Not knowing how large these "cities" are, they would probably still have an idea where the control center is and secure that, as well as the engine room, since those two areas usually let you control and steer the ship. Most CGs are more than capable of doing this, though a smaller nation might need a Navy ship with a helicopter pad if the CG doesn't have them (and typical boarding craft can't get access).

I don't think you would see things like a SEAL team insertion unless there was a known physical or biological threat. Maybe if these cities are HUGE, with tens of thousands of occupants or highly complex control mechanisms that require specialized technicians (more likely found in a Navy versus a CG) and lots of manpower to secure. Fires and such may indicate mechanical damage and not necessarily be attributed to hostile action. This would probably be classified as a rescue with CG and nearby naval vessel responding. If this occurred in international waters ALL nations nearby may be called on to assist. Note that an abandoned ship can be considered salvage so maritime law could get tricky if the ship itself is very valuable .So you may have competing rescue/salvage attempts. Once inside territorial waters the local nation takes precedence (if they can enforce it, some nations are notorious for "forgetting" where territorial waters start and end).

Destroying the ship would be a last resort option. Sinking a big ship is difficult unless a submarine, naval warship or air power are close by, most CG vessels using their small arms probably would just start another fire and make things worse. Scuttling would be the best option if the ship can't be controlled as that would allow for the most predictable method of sinking. Of course this requires control of the ship first and at least some knowledge of the structure.

No one will want to sink a ship where it will block a sea lane unless the ship is about to hit a build-up shoreline or port. Nations will be on risky ground doing it out in international waters, so they will have to wait until it comes into territorial waters (usually 12 miles out) so there is a window of opportunity when the ship enters nation "owned" waters but before the ship becomes a navigation hazard should it be sunk. Tugboats will PUSH the ship away, towing it will require attaching lines and that may be difficult if the ship is on fire. If there are multiple working propellers one could be damaged, causing the ship to turn, as another option.

If these ships are really large or unwieldy, they may require a local navigator to come on board before approaching the shoreline. This may be the event that alerts folks that the ship is unmanned/damaged (if it is approaching under power and not drifting). There would be specific sea lanes for their use so they don't interfere with regular shipping and recreational traffic. They may even need to file a pre-approved itinerary prior to approach so traffic can be alerted and routed around them. This would require two way communication so deviation from procedure would be quickly detected.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you very much! :) this is very helpful information and helps with further research. In case you were wondering the cities are modeled after the designs put forth by the Seasteading Institute at seasteading.org $\endgroup$ – Devin Jun 15 '16 at 20:16
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    $\begingroup$ Huh, those things are REALLY big. And I suspect have a very deep draft. So your problem there is going to be getting them close to shore at all. A big structure like that would probably plan on stopping at least a few miles out and sending in some sort of tender ship. So if one is coming in uncontrolled it won't be able to hit the shoreline just anywhere, it will have to come in where the sea floor has been dredged out or is a natural channel. You can get oceanographic depth charts here charts.noaa.gov/InteractiveCatalog/nrnc.shtml $\endgroup$ – Jason K Jun 15 '16 at 21:14
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for the charts. I'm assuming the red areas are where the water would be too shallow for it to effect sail? And the cities are big but my corporate city would only be about 6-8 of those individual sections at most. $\endgroup$ – Devin Jun 15 '16 at 23:16
  • $\begingroup$ I've been rereading the site to try and find out how deep under the water they go. I know that they want to have a large portion underwater to withstand storms, but they are also planning on the ability of them being able to be built and stay close to shore $\endgroup$ – Devin Jun 15 '16 at 23:52
  • $\begingroup$ wow, thats nothing that could be pushed away by a few tug boats... I wonder if stuff like this would be permitted to move around by its own, or if they would fix it somewhere nice and use a squadron of pulleys to move it around if necessary. If thats the case, stopping it when at collision course would be next to impossible, wouldn't it? $\endgroup$ – Confused Merlin Jun 16 '16 at 11:07

I'm not sure how the military would actually react, that's just the simplest caution measures I can think of:

If the country is currently not in a war, they are most likely to take a closer look at the city before trying to destroy it. Maybe the city just malfunctions, maybe they don't respond because they're out of power, etc. Even if the country is not willing to help, destroying the city seems like an overkill.

It seem reasonable to send some copters to take a closer look at the city. If it's empty and on fire, and no activity can be detected, I guess people would try to keep the city where it is. The most likely theories at this point are "illness", "disaster" and "trap", and you won't like these things in your bay. Probably the simplest thing is to remotely activate the city's anchors, or to send robots to do it.

They won't let anyone getting close until the copters and robots get a good picture of what's going on inside the city. They'll probably send the troops in sooner or later, but they'll check the city at least for radiation, chemical hazards and biohazards first.


It was still early when the Sian Jane got the third alert of course divergence that morning. Routinely she brought up the light screens to survey the area in question. Multiple bright green lines indicated the predestined paths of ships, freight barges and sea steads along the coast and there among them she found the sinner. Sea stead 1048DF. Or rather she didn’t find it. The rapid blinking of the position marker indicated that satellite connection had been lost.

She kept her breath for some seconds, hoping it was only a glitch in the system, but then two alerts were routed in from the help center. Ships near by had seen smoke from the stead.

Quickly she pulled the information and shared it to communication stream of her commanding officer. Then she linked in to the stream of the corporate contact department and requested info on 1048DF and a contact with their offices on land. It didn’t have any hazard notes, but you never knew with the sea steads. They could be notoriously convoluted about their projects and productions, burying unethical or dangerous practices in vague and obfuscating language.

After a minute she got visual confirmation of 1048DF’s new position as the survey satellites spotted it. The position marker stopped blinking and turned yellow,the sea stead was adrift. It didn’t take the system long to pull information from the meteorology center and predict three potential paths. Two of them indicated it would reach Monterey before noon, but all three of them would disrupt the coastal traffic along the coast in dangerous ways.

She activated an area alert on the map and called up the information streams for all the major vessels in danger of meeting the stead on the stretch, quickly she linked in the information necessary to adjust their courses safely.

Blue lights on the screen close to Monterey indicated that first responder drones had been launched from the airport. Blue lights flashed on one of the ships closest to 1048DF too. She had the time to idly wonder what the hurry was, why they had enlisted a civilian drone, before the the information on 1048DF updated on the screen. Biohazard.

In the following hour she almost forgot about her other responsibilities. She kept wishing she had clearance to find out what was really happening. Writing the report could wait. She kept the light screens up and stared at them for any change in the situation.

Then it came, the alert directly from executive. She almost froze in her seat, but managed to shake it and plot in the new area alert on the map. She let the alert sit there for a minute to give the vessels time to react before she swiped her finger in a circle around the drifting sea stead and she pulled the informations streams over to the hack screen. There wasn’t any margin for error in this, no time waste on slow systems or captains wanting more information about why they had to abandon their routes and do a u-turn. Besides she wasn’t the one who would have to deal with their complaints, she was just the one pulling the navigational core from their streams and overriding their local piloting.

She directed them back to their ports of origin out of convenience, but had to manually alter the paths of twenty vessels, that for some reason defaulted to their home ports in stead.

It was a magnificent thing to be able to do and she stared in wonder at the pattern of the looping green lines on her screen. After 30 minutes the the last boat had left the hazard zone and she rerouted the information to executive. Almost immediately new blue spots showed up, this time from Moffett. They wouldn’t be sending more drones, not from Moffett Federal Airfield.

With her heart in her throat the manually ordered a visual from the satellites. What if she had forgotten someone, what if some idiot was out there with a veteran boat. She knew those weren’t likely to cross the freight route along the coast, but you never knew. She scanned the satellite images with scrutiny as they came in, but no, there wasn’t any missed boats, no mistakes.

There was however a better image of the sea stead. Almost so detailed that you could make out what was on deck, almost. Her stomach sank. She hadn’t had time to think about it and now there wasn’t any time to find out. The static picture showed ghostly blurred shapes on deck. Her hands shook as she ordered another image, she had to see, had to see that the shapes were stagnant, that they hadn’t moved. But then the time was out. The blue dots had reached 1048DF. The next good satellite image to come through showed little but burning remains. The next one after that showed even less. The surface of the ocean was burning.

  • $\begingroup$ I love this. It's right along the lines of what I was originally thinking and although it's small I also really like the ship classification of 1048DF. Is that like a standard thing that we use today? Really good and thank you for sharing your answer. $\endgroup$ – Devin Jun 15 '16 at 20:19
  • $\begingroup$ @Devin, 1048DF came from my imagination, but I have worked with freight transport, so maybe my imagination pulled it from previous experience with the numbers on shipping containers. I would find it improbable that there would be as many sea steads as there are containers today and therefore the number would probably be shorter. $\endgroup$ – Martine Votvik Jun 15 '16 at 20:24
  • $\begingroup$ the number might be shorter and your right seasteads would most likely be in fewer number than shipping g containers. The identification though does have me intrigued as I feel it adds a bit more depth to the world and makes it seem real. The cities are modeled after the one put forth by the Seasteading Institute seasteading.org and each building is like its own separate vessel so the numbers could actually be higher than what we would initially think if each building is given an identification number. $\endgroup$ – Devin Jun 15 '16 at 21:26
  • $\begingroup$ @JDługosz as mentioned in the beginning of the text "Multiple right green lines indicated the predestined paths of ships" $\endgroup$ – Martine Votvik Jun 16 '16 at 5:10
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    $\begingroup$ @JDługosz, sometimes I'm blind to my own spelling errors before they are pointed out, the word was supposed to be "bright" $\endgroup$ – Martine Votvik Jun 16 '16 at 5:19

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