“The development of territorial sea as a concept in international law”


Shipping and fishing are the main areas of the sea. Depending on human development, there were many cases of the use of technology, and sometimes they attempted to satisfy the needs of human beings. Many other resources and minerals, natural gas, oil, sand and gravel, diamonds, gold and other resources were made from the seabed. With the development of trade in the 20th century and the inexhaustible realization of sea use, the classic principle of “Freedom of the Sea ” was pushed into the background. The area of public international law known as “international law of the sea” governs States and other subjects of international law’s rights and obligations surrounding the use and exploitation of the seas during times of peace. It differs from private marine law, which governs private individuals’ rights and obligations with regard to maritime matters, such as the carrying of commodities and maritime insurance   With the establishment of the modern national State structure in the 17th century, the law of the sea was created as a component of the law of nations .The world’s oceans have historically served two important functions: first, as a medium of communication, and second, as a vast repository for both natural resources, both living and nonliving. Both of these functions have promoted the creation of legal regulations ( Shaw, 1997: p. 390 ). The law of the sea and maritime highways have seen the most significant modifications of any area of international law over the past forty years. Public order at sea is governed by maritime law, much of which is codified in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)

In international courts, conflicts between adjacent coastal States may commonly occur over the definition of the maritime boundary, the extraction of minerals or other natural resources, the commission of any crime inside another state’s territorial limits, etc. The international courts or tribunals typically settle these conflicts on the foundation of grievances brought out by the parties involved in accordance with the principles of international maritime law or in accordance with precedents as a key source of international law. However, the focus of this study is on those aspects of international law that are frequently referred to as “the law of the sea,” and it serves as a foundation for future studies in this area. This study is focused on the more general subject of sea law, which includes analysis of issues primarily pertaining to the continental shelf, high seas, inland waters, territorial sea, contiguous zone, and exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Codification of the Law of the sea

The UN Security Council and Secretariat agreed that it was necessary to codify existing laws after 1945, notably those relating to the Law of the Seas, and to find a long-term solution regarding the marine territorial boundary of any country.

In accordance with this theory, the UNCLOS, which codified the pre-existing customary laws and entered into force in 1999 notwithstanding the agreement’s 1982 signing, was passed.

Since 1945, nearly all nations in the world have replaced the “cannon-shot rule” with the 12 nautical miles rule, which presumes that a country’s exclusive maritime limit is located 12 nautical miles out from its sea shore The UNCLOS rules and regulations also recognise and accept a rules. The Ram Setu Bridge, which connects Talaimannar in Sri Lanka to Dhanushkodi in India, is a famous example of a maritime dispute between India and Sri Lanka

What is UNCLOS?

Internal waters, territorial sea, contiguous zone, exclusive economic zone (EEZ), and high seas are the five primary zones defined by the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), often known as the Law of the Sea.

The only international treaty that establishes a foundation for state sovereignty over maritime areas is UNCLOS. It gives certain maritime zones various legal statuses.

It serves as the framework for offshore governance among coastal nations and seafarers. Additionally to zoning the offshore areas of coastal states, it offers detailed instructions on each state’s rights and obligations inside the five concentric zones.

It is a treaty or international agreement that provides rules and regulations for exploiting the oceans and seas of the world to protect, utilise, and conserve maritime resources

preservation and safeguarding of all marine life. The United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, which took place from 1973 to 1982, led to the treaty’s signing on December 10 at Montego Bay, Jamaica. It entered into force in 1994.

Salient Features of The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, 1982

The following elements appear to be included in a thorough list of the Convention’s major substantive provisions that specifically focuses on those that modify or add to the existing body of maritime law (Treves, 2013): a) The territorial sea’s maximum width is set at 12 miles, and the contiguous zone’s at 24 miles; b) A transit passage regime for straits used for international navigation is established; c) States made up of archipelagos can be referred to as “archipelagic States” if certain requirements are met, and the waters inside these lines are considered to be archipelagic waters because the outermost islands are connected by “archipelagic baselines” Other States enjoy freedoms of navigation, overflight, laying of cables and pipelines, and other internationally legal uses of the sea connected with these freedoms in the exclusive economic zone high seas; f) A rule of mutual “due regard” applies to ensure compatibility between the exercise of the rights of the coastal States and other States in the water column, which may be established by coastal States in which such States exercise sovereign rights and jurisdiction on all resource-related activities; Important details include the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. of the Sea. j) Detailed provisions concerning marine scientific research, based on the principle of consent of the coastal State, consent which should be the norm for pure research and discretionary for other purposes; I A series of very detailed provisions deal with the protection of the marine environment setting out general principles and rules about competence for law-making and enforcement as well as on safeguards.

What is the role of this convention?

Multiple maritime zones are defined by the convention. Specifically, the international seabed area, the continental shelf, the territorial waters, the contiguous zone, and the exclusive economic zone. International water makes up the exclusive economic zone, which is accessible to and usable by each nation for economic reasons. Currently, it is the primary rule of the sea. There is no limit or boundary set for commercial or marine business in these International waters.

 History of the convention?

Many nations have stated a desire to improve their national maritime information systems, utilise natural resources, safeguard fish stocks, and lessen pollution. The League of Nations organised a conference at The Hague in 1930 with this goal in mind, but no agreement was reached. The 20th century saw technological advancements in oil production and fisheries that expanded the maritime area in which nations might find and use natural resources.

This led the then-President of the United States, Harry S. Truman, to expand American jurisdiction outside of all of the natural riches on its continental shelf and well outside of its territorial waters in 1945.

Due to the supremacy of European navies on a global scale in the 20th century, Grotius’ idea of “Freedom of the Sea” effectively became universal. National jurisdiction and rights regarding Bynkershoek’s “cannon fire” regulations confine oceans to specific water zones that extend from the country’s coast, often 3 miles (5.6 km). The adage “Mare Liberum” states that any water beyond a nation’s borders is considered international water, which is unrestricted for all nations but not for any individual.

John Seldon contended in a saying titled “Mare Clausum” in response to British attorney Grotius that the sea has the same ability to take sovereign power as land and territory. Seldon disagreed with Grotius’s presumptions, contending that there was no precedent for treating the sea differently from the land and that there was nothing about the nature of the sea that barred the State from exercising power over its many components. In essence, international law can set the framework for national jurisdiction that appears above the sea.

Territorial rules with regard to the law of the sea

The reason why the Law of the Seas was not codified under Customary International Laws was solely due to the fact that at the time, the ocean was regarded as a significant maritime asset through which nations could assert their sovereignty, establish new trade agreements, and also conquer new lands using either mighty ships or trading companies.

However, by the 17th century, a Customary International Law began to develop among nations, establishing categorically that a nation’s territorial limit from the coastal sea shall be limited to 3 nautical miles, under which the nation shall exercise absolute jurisdiction, and that no foreign ships or vessels will be allowed inside that territory, except for certain restricted circumstances.

The “cannon-shot rule” applied to this 3-mile distance The “Doctrine of innocent passage” refers to the restrictions placed on foreign ships entering a host’s territorial waters. If a foreign vessel was exercising the doctrine of innocent passage, then no conditions were allowed to run any over or over operations against the territorial integrity of the host State.

Civil jurisdiction of the Coastal State over the vessels in the Innocent Passage

The 1982 Convention’s Article 28 addresses the coastal state’s civil jurisdiction over foreign ships and provides the following:

1) A foreign ship travelling through the territorial sea of the coastal State should not be stopped or diverted in order to allow the coastal State to exercise civil jurisdiction over a person on board the ship. 2) Except for obligations or liabilities assumed or incurred by the ship itself in the course or for the purpose of its trip through the coastal State’s waters, the coastal State may not levy execution against or arrest the ship for the purpose of any civil proceedings. 3) Para (2) is without prejudice to the coastal State’s legal authority to execute against or detain a foreign ship lying in the territorial sea or transiting through the territorial sea after leaving internal waters for the purpose of any civil proceedings.

 Provisions for War Ships and Other Non-Trading Ships

According to Article 30, which deals with the provisions regarding warships’ non-compliance with the coastal state’s laws and regulations regarding passage through the territorial sea, the coastal state may order any warship to leave the territorial sea immediately if it does not comply with its laws and regulations and disregards any requests made to it for compliance. Article 31 states that the flag State is responsible globally for any loss or damage to the coastal state brought on by a warship or other government ship that is operated for non-commercial purposes not abiding by the coastal state’s laws and regulations regarding passage through the territorial sea or another government vessel used for non-commercial activities that complies with the terms of this Convention, other norms of international law, and the laws and regulations of the coastal State regarding passage in the territorial sea. The coastal state is always responsible for maintaining the passage’s integrity.

Right to Hot Pursuit

The right of hot pursuit is an exception to the flag state’s sole authority over a ship in international waters. A principle known as the right of hot pursuit of a foreign vessel was created to make sure that a ship breaking the laws of a coastal state couldn’t escape punishment by going to the high seas. In reality, it means that a coastal state may, under specific conditions, extend its jurisdiction to the high seas in order to pursue and capture a ship that is believed to be breaking one of its laws. The 1982 Convention’s article 111 thoroughly developed the right, which has been evolving in some form or another since the 19th century. The 1958 High Seas Convention’s Article 23 . If there is reason to believe that a foreign vessel has broken one or more of the coastal state’s laws or regulations, hot pursuit of the vessel may be initiated. However, hot pursuit must begin when the foreign vessel or one of its boats is within the internal waters, archipelagic waters, territorial sea, or contiguous zone, and it may only be continued outside the territorial sea or contiguous zone if the pursuit has not been stopped.

Only warships, military aircraft, or other vessels or aircraft that are clearly marked and recognisable as being in government service and are authorised to that purpose are permitted to pursue  According to Article 111 (1) of the 1982 Convention, the right of hot pursuit only commences when the pursuing ship determines that the ship being pursued or one of its boats is within the territorial sea’s boundaries, or as the case may be in the contiguous zone, EEZ, or on the continental shelf. According to Article 23 of the 1958 Convention, if a warship violates the coastal state’s rules for transiting its territorial sea and ignores any requests made of it for compliance, the coastal state may take legal action against the warship maybe necessitates the vessel leaving the territorial sea. When the pursued vessel enters the territorial waters of its own or a third state, the right to hot pursuit ends (Article 111(3), 1982).

On how far the coastal state should exercise this right to hot pursuit, there is also a heated controversy in international law. Regarding this, there is a well-known case called the I Am Alone Case (1935) (Canada v. USA). In this instance, the coast guard ship Wolcott observed the “I am Alone,” a rum runner with Canadian registration, on March 20, 1929, about 10.5 miles off the Louisiana coast, but within an hour’s sailing distance of the coast. The “I am Alone” ship defied the Wolcott’s orders to stop sailing. The Dexter began to pursue, and Wolcott eventually caught up with the “I am Alone” more than 200 miles off the US coast. When “I Am Alone” follows, The Dexter started firing when h refused to stop sailing. The “I am Alone” was sunk as a result. All but one individual were saved. The two Commissioners chosen by the 1929 Convention were brought in to resolve the conflict. The main questions on the court’s agenda in this case were: 1) Was the US warship Wolcott’s chase of the “I Am Alone” a hot pursuit? 2) Was the US pursuit reasonable or appropriate given the threat that the “I am Alone” vessel represented? 3) Will the US be required to pay damages if there is no hot pursuit? According to the Commissioners, the US vessel was not hotly pursued when it was being followed. Wolcott’s decision to start firing was unjustified. Thus The United States was mandated to compensate Canada.

Position of India regarding territorial waters

Article 297 of the Indian Constitution as well as regulations governing waterways, the continental shelf, exclusive economic zones, and other maritime zones largely control India’s stance with regard to the Law of the Sea. Indian jurisdiction over the seabed, the land, and the airspace above those seas is defined under the Maritime Zone Law. Each point along the boundary line is 12 nautical miles from the closest point to the baseline in this area. All foreign ships have the legal right to pass within national seas in an unhindered manner.

Case : The South China dispute


China was ruled by the Ming dynasty, known for creating the Terracotta army, 5000 years ago. The entire region, including the south China sea along the coasts of Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines was depicted as Chinese dominion during the Ming dynasty on a naval map. The Chinese government now claims these territories beneath the South China Sea, which are located within the territorial waters of various southeast Asian nations, as being part of its own sovereignty. This new border was known as the (nine-dash line) territory by the Chinese. The Spratly Islands were created as a result of the Imperial Chinese navy’s continuous incursions into Philippine maritime territory in 1988 with the assistance of the Chinese air force and islands in the Johnson group. The contested territory was within the maritime limit of Philippine sea waters, and the Philippine government fiercely objected to this move on the grounds that China had infringed upon Philippine territorial sovereignty. The Chinese government has been actively fortifying the Spratly and Johnson islands since 1988 by constructing a number of smaller artificial islands, military outposts, air force bases, and other facilities despite repeated requests from the government of the Philippines to stop construction in the disputed areas. In an effort to settle the dispute in 2015, the Philippine government contacted the PCA (Permanent Court of Arbitration).

The Chinese government did not come before the PCA in the South China Sea conflict. The PCA firmly argued that China’s “nine-dash line” theory was grossly inaccurate, that the construction of the Spratly and Johnson islands was unlawful, and that China had broken nearly all of its treaties and obligations, including those governed by the UNCLOS, customary international law, and more specifically, Article 2(4) of the UN Charter.


China vehemently disagreed with the ruling. Following the PCA’s ruling, the Chinese navy began constructing sizable seaports in the Spratly Harbour so that Chinese naval aircraft carrier fighter squadrons of the Chinese air force could be stationed there permanently.

China has been constructing new islands in the south China sea since 2016, including in the territorial waters of Vietnam, Indonesia, and Malaysia. China is now asserting that the nine-dash rule is accurate and that it would continue to construct more islands in the region.

Contiguous Zone

The contiguous zone is the area immediately adjacent to the territorial sea in which a coastal State may exercise control to prevent and penalise violations of its laws and regulations governing customs, fiscal, immigration, and sanitary matters within its territory or territorial sea, as well as the removal of artefacts from antiquity and history discovered at sea. may not go more than 24 nautical miles from the baselines of the territorial sea.

India’s position on contiguous zone

India has claimed the contiguous zone to the extent of 24 nautical miles by enacting the Maritime Zones Act of 1976.

Continental Shelf

Even while shelf seas only make up around 7% of the world’s oceans, their economic significance is much bigger. The undersea boundary of a continent is known as a continental shelf. A continental shelf stretches from a continent’s shoreline to a point where it drops off, known as the shelf break. In what is known as the continental slope, the shelf declines from the break toward the deep ocean floor.A significant maritime region that contains a variety of resources and essential habitats for marine life is the continental shelf. The vast bulk of the continental shelf remains uncharted and unexplored.

Hugh Robert Mill originally introduced the term Continental Shelf in 1887. The gently sloping underwater plain that lies between a continent and the S. deep sea. The landmass of the continent extends beneath the ocean on the continental shelf.

The continental shelf, according to W. Friedman, is the area surrounding the continent that stretches from a low water line to depth and is typically indicated towards higher depth. A sloping platform that covers continents and islands is what is generally referred to as a “continental shelf.” This is a portion of or an extension of a continental landmass that is underwater and borders another landmass. It typically reaches a depth of 200 metres.

The coastal nations do not have full sovereignty over the continental shelf; rather, they have limited rights to explore and utilise “natural resources.”

There were two bilateral agreements between the Federal Republic of Germany and the Netherlands and between the Federal Republic of Germany and Denmark in the North Sea Continental Shelf Case (1969) (Federal Republic of Germany vs. Denmark and Netherlands; ICJ). The two accords, which were signed in 1964 and 1965, respectively, accomplished nothing more than drawing a diving line for a short distance out from the coast, starting at the location of the two States’ respective land borders. The parties to the aforementioned accords separately submitted the matter to the ICJ after further agreement for delimitation of their portion in the North Sea Continental Shelf had shown to be impractical. 1) Which principle of international law shall be used in this case? 2) Does a country like Germany fall inside the scope of Article 6 of the 1958 Geneva Convention on the Continental Shelf, which was founded on the principle of equidistance? The parties are exempt from the application of the equidistance concept. Denmark and the Netherlands are the winners of this case, which the court resolved on the basis of equitable principles. In this case, the ICJ overturned a precedent that the Court had established in an earlier decision, which said that the division of a neighbouring country’s common continental shelf must follow the equidistance criterion. Germany did not ratify the Geneva Convention on the Continental Shelf, which was the basis for this argument. 2) Does a country like Germany fall inside the scope of Article 6 of the 1958 Geneva Convention on the Continental Shelf, which was founded on the principle of equidistance? The parties are exempt from the application of the equidistance concept. Denmark and the Netherlands are the winners of this case, which the court resolved on the basis of equitable principles. In this case, the ICJ overturned a precedent that the Court had established in an earlier decision, which said that the division of a neighbouring country’s common continental shelf must follow the equidistance criterion.  Germany did not ratify the Geneva Convention on the Continental Shelf, which was the basis for this argument.

The Anglo-French Continental Shelf Case (1978) is another significant case (UK vs. France; ICJ). In this instance, despite a lengthy effort that lasted almost ten years (from 1964 to 1975), both the UK and France were unable to pinpoint the size of their respective continental shelves. They agreed in a bilateral treaty that this issue will be determined by the ICJ in 1975. As a result, in June 1977, the Geneva location was established by the ICJ. The fundamental question in the case was: Which rule or legislation should be used to determine the extent of each State’s continental shelf? The equity concept served as the foundation for the ICJ’s judgement. The Court’s justification was that it is not required that the The Geneva Convention on the Continental Shelf, 1958’s article 6 (the principle of equidistance) must be applied in this situation, leading to the application of a new principle, namely the principle of equity.

Another important case in this regard is the Libya-Malta Continental Shelf Case (1985), in which Malta and Libya disagreed over the delineation of the continental shelf’s boundaries. The 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea was ratified by both States. However, Malta was a party to the 1958 Convention but Libya was not. The primary question on the court’s agenda was whether to apply article 6(2) of the 1958 Convention or customary international law in considering the case. The 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea was ratified by both of the States. The court determined that the delimitation is to by a margin of 14 to 3 votes The court decided that equidistance rules should be used to apply the delimitation. The ICJ used the equidistance principle for delimitation in this instance. Both the equity and equidistance concepts are applicable, however it relies on the unique geographic circumstances of the coastal state in question. The court ruled that in this case, an equitable outcome would be possible by drawing a line along which every point is equally spaced from the coast’s low water mark.

India’s position on the continental shelf

India’s position that it has designated a continental shelf 200 nautical miles from land is defined by the Maritime Zone Act. According to international agreements, Indian rights and responsibilities under this command are comparable to those of other nations. However, the government has the authority to proclaim a region’s continental shelf and its magical waters and to enact regulations therein.

Exclusive Economic Zone

A state has a number of rights with relation to the discovery and exploitation of marine resources, including the production of water and wind energy, over an exclusive economic zone, which is a sea area designated by UNCLOS. From the baseline, it extends for 200 nautical miles (370.4 km) away from its coast. The continental shelf may be included in the EEZ geographically.

The exclusive economic zone (EEZ) is just a sovereign right that relates to coastal States directly beneath the surface of the sea, whereas the territorial sea (12-mile rule) grants full sovereignty over the waters.

The Bombay High, located 73 to 74 nautical miles off the Indian coast and used for commercial shipping, is an example of an exclusive economic zone for Indian government use in oil prospecting.

India’s position on EEZ

The Maritime Act of 1976’s Section 7 grants exclusive rights to explore and utilise the natural resources located within the EEZ.

Flag State rule

A vessel, ship, aircraft, or submarine must be legally registered in a certain nation, and practically speaking, it must fly or display the flag of the nation at which it is registered.

The Flag State rule is applicable to all types of oil tanks, including cruise ships, as well as both commercial and military ships.

The two countries with the most registered ships as of right now are Liberia and Panama, yet the majority of those ships are dismantled and sold as trash in Alang, Gujarat.

The Flag State rule principle has also been applied in accordance with UNCLOS 1982 Part VII Article 92, and UNCLOS 1982 Article 217(1) permits its application even in environmental issues.

Case: S.S. Lotus case (France Vs. Turkey, 1927)


After Mustapha Kemal Pasha began liberalising the Turkish economy in 1925, Turkey began to increase its trading with foreign nations. Unfortunately, a Turkish ship, S.S. Bozkurt, collided with a French ship, S.S. Lotus, damaging the Turkish ship and killing 8 Turkish citizens on board. The S.S. Lotus transported the Turkish ship’s remaining survivors to Turkey.

The first watch officer, Monsiver Demons, was prosecuted with manslaughter in Turkey together with the captain of the French ship. Demons received a prison term and a fine. Monsieur Demons’ release and the transfer of his case to the French Court were also demands made by the French government. France and Turkey concurred that the PCIJ should handle the matter (Permanent Court of International Justice).


The Turkish authorities accused Monsieur Demons of intentionally causing the catastrophe, and the French and Turkish governments were sharply accusing one another. The French authorities further argued that because the incident involved a French ship and a French national, only they have the authority to try the defendant.

The PCIJ ruled that Turkey had no right to bring charges against Monsieur Demons and had not violated any international law principles by doing so.

Following this decision, there was a great deal of criticism, and once the United Nations was established, the Flag State norm underwent several adjustments.

Rights of the coastal States

Over a coastline state, the States are unable to exert sovereignty. When the first five years of production are over at that location, they will use their sovereign rights to investigate and utilise the minerals, non-living resources, and soil there. The speed will rise by 125ths of the value of each succeeding year up to 12 years, after which it will remain seven-membered. If coastal States don’t investigate or use shelf resources, no other state could do so without their express consent.

High Seas

All areas outside of a country’s EEZ, territory, or interior waters are referred to as the high seas. The sea could not be held by anyone, according to Grotius’ dictum on “Mare Liberum,” which was published in 1609.

As a result, all States favoured allowing ships to travel freely, engage in combat, engage in fishing, construct artificial islands, etc. However, the 1982 convention on the Law of the Sea has significantly altered the mandate.

According to Article 87(2) of the treaty, the freedom of the high seas “must be exercised with appropriate attention to the interests of other States,” which is a general restriction on the freedom of the high seas.

Rights and Obligations in Coastal and Non-Coastal States

The rights, responsibilities, and authority of the coastal State in the EEZ are covered by Article 56. According to Article 56 (1), the coastal State has the following sovereign rights in the EEZ: a) Sovereign rights for the purposes of exploring and exploitation, conservation, and management of the natural resources, whether living or non-living, of the waters adjacent to the seabed, of the seabed, and its subsoil, as well as with regard to other activities for the economic exploitation and exploration of the zone, such as the production of energy from the water, currents, and winds; 1) building and using artificial islands, installations, and structures, 2) conducting maritime scientific study, and 3) preserving and protecting the marine environment. Article 58 of the 1982 Convention, which again addresses the rights and obligations of other States in the EEZ, states that in the exclusive economic zone, all States, whether coastal or landlocked, are entitled to the freedoms of navigation, overflight, and the laying of submarine cables and pipelines, as well as other internationally lawful uses of the sea related to these freedoms, such as those associated with oil and gas exploration and production.


The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) establishes a thorough framework for regulating nations’ rights with regard to the oceans. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is a specialised department of the United Nations tasked with enhancing maritime security and reducing ship-related pollution.

The waters gave rise to life itself. Even now, when the continents have been surveyed and their innards are reachable by land, water, and air, the majority of people on earth live within 200 miles of the sea and have intimate ties to it.

The examination above makes it clear that the law of the sea is a developing field of international law. For the management and use of this shared resource, the 1958 and 1982 Conventions on the Law of the Sea made significant contributions, and many of the norms outlined in these Conventions have since become part of customary international law. The 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which addresses nearly all of the key concerns pertaining to the law of the sea and does so in a way that has garnered a sizable amount of support, was the great accomplishment. Additionally, a lot of its provisions either show how customary international law already exists or will become clear.

Article by Yakshu Jindal

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