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territorial sea

  The area of sea, beyond its coast and inland waters, over which a state claims exclusive jurisdiction. Coastal states have made such claims since classical times, but until the Third UN Convention on the Law of the Sea was fully ratified in 1994, setting the extent of territorial seas at 12 nautical miles, there was no universally accepted definition.

From the late eighteenth century, most coastal states claimed three nautical miles, sufficient for the defence of the realm and for protecting access to inshore fisheries, but a minority laid claim to more extensive tracts. Following the lead of the USA, and later the former USSR, more and more states began to lay claim to 12 nautical mile territorial seas in the first half of the twentieth century. One of the main tasks on the agenda of the Third UN Conference on the Law of the Sea was to broker the agreement that ultimately emerged.

The sovereignty of a state extends to the airspace above its territorial seas, as well as to the seabed and the subsoil below. Indeed, its jurisdiction is identical in all but one respect to that exercised over its land: the sole exception is the right of innocent passage through territorial seas granted to international shipping.

Not all states have yet exercised their rights to claim territorial seas up to 12 nautical miles, while others, such as Chile and Ecuador, claim up to 200 nautical miles, but there is a growing acceptance of the UN norm (see law of the sea). (MB)

Suggested Reading Glassner, M.I. 1990: Neptune\'s domain: a political geography of the sea. Boston: Unwin Hyman.



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