UNCLOS

United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)

  •  The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is an international treaty which was adopted and signed in 1982.
  • It replaced the four Geneva Conventions of April, 1958, which respectively concerned the territorial sea and the contiguous zone, the continental shelf, the high seas, fishing and conservation of living resources on the high seas.
  • The Law of the Sea Convention defines the rights and responsibilities of nations with respect to their use of the world’s oceans, establishing guidelines for businesses, the environment, and the management of marine natural resources.
  • As of June 2016, 167 countries and the European Union have joined in the Convention.
  • While the Secretary-General of the United Nations receives instruments of ratification and accession and the UN provides support for meetings of states party to the Convention, the United Nations Secretariat has no direct operational role in the implementation of the Convention.
  • A UN specialized agency, the International Maritime Organization, does play a role, however, as well as other bodies such as the International Whaling Commission and the International Seabed Authority (ISA), which was established by the Convention itself.

The Convention has created three new institutions

  1. the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea
  2. the International Seabed Authority
  3. the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf

The convention set the limit of various areas

Internal waters

  • Covers all water and waterways on the landward side of the baseline. The coastal state is free to set laws, regulate use, and use any resource.
  • Foreign vessels have no right of passage within internal waters.

Territorial waters

  • It covers 12 nautical miles from the baseline.
  • The coastal state is free to set laws, regulate use, and use any resource.
  • Vessels were given the right of innocent passage through any territorial waters, with strategic straits allowing the passage of military craft as transit passage, in that naval vessels are allowed to maintain postures that would be illegal in territorial waters.
  • “Innocent passage” is defined by the convention as passing through waters in an expeditious and continuous manner, which is not “prejudicial to the peace, good order or the security” of the coastal state.
  • Fishing, polluting, weapons practice, and spying are not “innocent”, and submarines and other underwater vehicles are required to navigate on the surface and to show their flag.

Archipelagic waters

  • The convention set the definition of “Archipelagic States” in Part IV, which also defines how the state can draw its territorial borders. A baseline is drawn between the outermost points of the outermost islands, subject to these points being sufficiently close to one another. All waters inside this baseline are designated “Archipelagic Waters”.
  • The state has sovereignty over these waters (like internal waters), but subject to existing rights including traditional fishing rights of immediately adjacent states.

Contiguous zone

  • Beyond the 12-nautical-mile (22 km) limit, there is a further 12 nautical miles (22 km) from the territorial sea baseline limit, the contiguous zone.
  • Here a state can continue to enforce laws in four specific areas (customs, taxation, immigration, and pollution) if the infringement started or is about to occur within the state’s territory or territorial waters.

Exclusive economic zones (EEZs)

  • These extend 200 nmi (370 km) from the baseline. Within this area, the coastal nation has sole exploitation rights over all natural resources.
  • Foreign nations have the freedom of navigation and overflight, subject to the regulation of the coastal states.
  • Foreign states may also lay submarine pipes and cables.

Continental shelf

  • The continental shelf is defined as the natural prolongation of the land territory to the continental margin’s outer edge, or 200 nautical miles (370 km) from the coastal state’s baseline, whichever is greater.
  • A state’s continental shelf may exceed 200 nautical miles (370 km) until the natural prolongation ends.
  • Coastal states have the right to harvest mineral and non-living material in the subsoil of its continental shelf, to the exclusion of others.
  • Coastal states also have exclusive control over living resources “attached” to the continental shelf, but not to creatures living in the water column beyond the exclusive economic zone.
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