We study different types of laws for e.g. Indian Penal Code, Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 etc which have the implications of the acts mentioned under them as per the law of land. These laws do not apply when the offence has been committed on the sea. Law of the Sea is a part of the public international law. It is a body of customs, treaties international law that concerns the principles and rules by which public entities, especially states, interact in maritime matters, including navigational rights, sea mineral rights, and coastal waters jurisdiction and maintain the peaceful relations on the sea.

Law relating to the sea is important because the sea acts as a medium of communication between the two countries. It also acts as a vast reservoir of resources, both living and non-living. To stimulate these two functions, the legal rules related to the law of the sea has been developed.

As per the fundamental principle relating to the law of the sea is that the land dominates the sea. The maritime rights of the coastal state will apply only where the land territorial situation ends.

The history of a law of the Sea is the history of conflict between the theory of ‘closed seas’ and theory of ‘open seas’ which essentially dealt with the questions whether the seas could be subjected to state Sovereignty or not.

Theory of Closed Sea

A state could appropriate large expenses of seas as part of their respective territories. The states could exercise sovereignty and enjoy the exclusive navigational and fishing rights over the appropriated seas. This theory was prevalent from 15 to the 17th century. Spain and Portugal actually apportioned the world ocean between themselves.

Theory of Open Sea

According to the concept of the open sea, Oceans are res communis i.e. they are accessible to all the states and can’t be appropriated by states for their exclusive use. This theory was opposed at the time but gained importance around 18 century onwards with growing maritime activities of the nations.

Cannon Shot Rule

In the year 1702, came the cannon shot rule. As per this rule, territorial sovereignty of the states extended to the vessels within the range of cannons mounted on the shores and no further.

Three Mile Rule

The second half of 18th century saw an emergence of the theory of a maritime belt. States claiming jurisdiction over a belt of a sea of uniform breadth all around the coastline. This was a genesis of a concept of the territorial sea.

History of Codification of Law of Sea

First attempt to codify international law on the law of the sea was made in Hague Codification Conference 1930. In absence of state consensus, the conference failed.

UN Conference on Law of Sea 9 (UNCLOS) I and the 1958 Geneva Convention

UNCLOS adopted 4 conventions covering other important aspects of the law of the Sea. The Convention came into force as under:

  1. Conventions of High Seas. This Convention came into force on 30 September 1962
  1. The Convention on the Territorial Sea and Contiguous Zone which occurred on 10 September 1964.
  2. Convention on Fishing and Conservation of the Living Resource which took place on 20 March 1966.
  3. The Convention on Continental Shelf which took place on 10 June 1964.

1958 Geneva Convention covered many aspects of the law of the seas but many were left out of scope. The UNCLOS II convened in the year 1960 and also failed to bring about any further development.

Next major breakthrough in the process of codification was UNCLOS III. It was an unprecedented international treaty-making an effort with more than 160 states participating in the process. The states sharing common interests came together to form alliances to be in a better position to bargain and negotiate the terms.

After 9 years of negotiations, UN Convention on Law of the Sea was finally adopted on 10th December 1982 and entered into force on 16 November 1994.

1982 Convention

It comprises customary rules and reflects a progressive development of International Law on a law of Seas. It comprised 17 parts, 320 articles, and 9 Annexes.

1982 Conventions provides for 6 maritime zones:

  1. Internal water and Archipelagic Waters

It is landward of low water mark.

  1. Territorial Sea

The maritime belt is that belt of the sea adjacent to the coastal state, over which the coastal state exercises the sovereignty. It has the range of 0-12 Nautical miles measured from the baseline. In this area, there is no high sea freedom, except innocent passage for foreign ships.

  1. Contiguous Zone

It has the range of 0-24 Nautical miles measured from the baseline. In this zone, there is a control for customs, fiscal and immigration purposes.

  1. Exclusive Economic Zone

12-200 Nautical miles measured from the baseline. In this area, sovereign rights for exploration, exploitation, conservation, and management of natural resources are available.

  1. Continental Shelf

It has the measure of up to 350 Nautical miles measured from the baseline if approved.

  1. High Seas

The area of High Sea includes traditional high seas freedoms, including taking, living marine resources for fisheries and uses other than exploitation of non-living resources on or under the seabed.

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