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law of the sea

  Prior to 1958 most of the law of the sea derived from customary law, but since the late 1950s a series of international conferences sponsored by the United Nations has resulted in three conventions on the Law of the Sea which have had some success in bringing the oceans within a single body of international law. The most recent UNCLOS III was initially agreed on 17 December 1982 at Montego Bay, Jamaica. Although it was signed by the majority of maritime states, the major industrial countries, including France, the UK and the USA, refused, because of the limitations it proposed on their rights to exploit the resources of the high seas. This part of the convention was painstakingly renegotiated to try and take account of these countries\' objections, and the most important result was the establishment of the International Seabed Authority. The revised version was eventually completed in 1994, but most of the major industrial nations were still reluctant to sign. Since then, France and the UK both acceded to the treaty in 1997, but not the USA which still refuses to contemplate any legal limits on its freedom to exploit the high seas. The convention itself defines seven maritime jurisdictional zones (see the figure): (a) Internal waters: all waters landward of the baseline from which the territorial sea is measured, such as rivers, lakes, bays, ports and any waters landward of the low-tide line. (b) The territorial sea: states exercise total sovereignty over these waters, except the rights of innocent passage. They extend for 12 nautical miles from the baseline, unless this impinges on the territorial seas of a neighbouring state, when a compromise has to be agreed. (c) The contiguous zone: an area 12 nautical miles beyond the limit of the territorial sea, within which states are free to apply customs and other national regulations. (d) The continental shelf: an area extending 200 nautical miles from the baseline, within which states may claim virtually exclusive rights to the seabed resources. It should be noted that that this is the legal and not the physical definition (see the figure). In some instances states are permitted to claim jurisdiction over their continental shelves beyond 200 nautical miles, but such extensions can only be sanctioned by the newly established UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. (e) Fishing: most states now claim and exercise exclusive fishing rights up to 200 nautical miles out to sea from their coastal baseline. (f) Exclusive Economic Zone: synonymous with the redefined legal continental shelf described in (d) above. (g) The high seas: these include all waters other than those defined in (a)-(f) above, and there is complete freedom of movement within them. However, signatories to the UNCLOS III convention accept that mineral and other seabed resources are an international resource and should be exploited for the benefit of all, not just those countries with the technology to do so.

Finally, all habitable islands are subject to the same regulations as coastal states, but it is not permissible to claim an Exclusive Economic Zone around small, uninhabitable rocks, or artificial structures.

The most notable achievements of the renegotiation of the UNCLOS III Treaty, completed in 1994, was the establishment of the International Seabed Authority to administer the mining of the deep seabed, including the Authority\'s own mining arm, Enterprise; the creation of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, consisting of 21 judges to settle certain types of dispute about the interpretation of UNCLOS; and the setting up of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, to consider submissions concerning the outer edge of the continental margin beyond 200 nautical miles. (MB)

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law of the sea The three dimensional nature of sea divisions (after Couper, 1978)

Reference Couper, A. 1978: Geography and law of the sea. London: Macmillan.

Suggested Reading Churchill, R.R. and Lowe, A.V. 1988: The law of the sea. Manchester: Manchester University Press. Foreign and Commonwealth Office 1998: Britain\'s accession to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Background Brief: Glassner, M.I. 1990: Neptune\'s domain: a political geography of the sea. London: Unwin Hyman. Juda, L. 1996: International law and ocean use management. The evolution of ocean governance. London and New York: Routledge.



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