United Nations convention on the Law of the sea (UNCLOS)

The United Nations Convention on the law of the sea (UNCLOS) is called the law of sea convention or the law of the sea treaty (1982).
UNCLOS defines the rights and responsibilities of the nations in respect to their use of all the oceans.
UNCLOS further establishes guidelines for businesses and the environment and manage marine natural resources.
It has come into force internationally on 16th November 1994.
UNCLOS has divided the various areas of the world's seas into zones of jurisdiction.
They are internal waters, territorial waters, archipelagic waters, contiguous zones, fisheries limits, continental shelf, exclusive economic zone and high seas.
UNCLOS decide the coastal state jurisdiction in the waters mentioned above.
None of the above zones is obligatory and each coastal state has options to adopt them or not, subject to a maximum limit.
The coastal state cannot impose its sovereignty in most of the zones, as it has limited rights.

Let's see how UNCLOS came into force?

  • Countries have always wanted to hold control over their coastal waters.
  • There has been difficulty in deciding how far out into the sea, a country should be able to exercise this right.
  • After the second world war, the US first proclaimed its continental shelf in 1945 and later proclaimed to conserve fisheries.
  • Many countries followed that and started claiming territorial sovereignty in the sea as far out as they wanted.
  • It required immediate action by appraisal of the international law of the sea.
  • Numerous articles were prepared and circulated among the UN member states between 1959 and 1957 by the international law commission.
  • Eventually, the UNCLOS later to be known as UNCLOS-1 was adopted in a conference held in Geneva in 1958 where four treaties debated and adopted.
  • UNCLOS-1 was not ratified by most countries; the delay in ratification of UNCLOS-1 led to the adoption of UNCLOS-2 convened in 1960.
  • A number of countries became independent States when decolonisation increased and those States joined the UN without having to accept the regimes of UNCLOS.
  • The possibility arose where a larger and more powerful state could manipulate the UNCLOS and take unfair commercial advantage over the smaller States in untapped deep-sea resources.
  • So, it led to the adoption of UNCLOS-2 in 1974; 117 States had signed the convention by the end of 1982 and it was finally concluded formally.

The main provision of UNCLOS are:

  • The width of the territorial sea is set at 12 nautical miles and contiguous zone 24Nm.
  • Innocent passage through the territorial sea and international strait transit passages are defined.
  • Archipelagic waters and passage allowed through them are defined.
  • The exclusive economic zone is limited to 200 Nm from the baseline.
  • Continental shelf is defined and provided to extend jurisdiction over resources beyond 200 nautical miles is given.
  • Judiciary procedures over the high seas are defined.
  • Management of living resources behind the limits of EEZ is regulated.
  • A clear difference between an island and a rock that cannot generate EEZ or continental shelf is given.
  • Marine pollution control regulations and Marine scientific research regulations are established.
  • A commission is established on the limits of the continental shelf.
  • A procedure is set out for resolving disputes.

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