Highlights of the Convention on the Law of the Sea

UNESCO Courier, February 1986 | Go to article overview

Highlights of the Convention on the Law of the Sea


Highlights of the Convention on the Law of the Sea * Coastal States would exercise sovereignty over their territorial sea of up to twelve miles in breadth, but foreign vessels would be allowed "innocent passage" through these waters for purposes of peaceful navigation.

* Ships and aircraft of all countries would be allowed "transit passage" through straits used for international navigation, as long as they proceeded without delay and without threatening the bordering States. States alongside the straits would be able to regulate navigation and other aspects of passage.

* Archipelagic States, made up of a group or groups of closely related islands and interconnecting waters, would have sovereignty over a sea area enclosed by straight lines drawn between the outermost points of the islands. They would have sovereignty over these archipelagic waters, while ships of all other States would enjoy the right of passage through sea lanes designated by the archipelagic State.

* Coastal States would have sovereign rights in a 200-mile exclusive economic zone with respect to natural resources and certain economic activities, and would also have certain types of jurisdiction over scientific research and environmental preservation. All other States would have freedom of navigation and overflight in the zone, as well as freedom to lay submarine cables and pipelines. Land-locked States and "States with special geographical characteristics" would have the right to participate in exploiting part of the zone's fisheries when the coastal State could not harvest them all itself. Delimitation of overlapping economic zones would be "effected by agreement on the basis of international law...in order to achieve an equitable solution". Highly migratory species of fish and marine mammals would be afforded special protection.

* Coastal States would have sovereign rights over the continental shelf (the national area of the sea bed) for the purpose of exploring and exploiting it without affecting the legal status of the water or the air space above. The shelf would extend at least to 200 miles from shore, and out to 350 miles or even beyond under specified circumstances. Coastal States would share with the international community part of the revenue they derive from exploiting oil and other resources from any part of their shelf beyond 200 miles. Delimitation of overlapping shelves would be on the same basis as for the exclusive economic zone. A Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf would make recommendations to States on the shelf's outer boundaries.

* All States would enjoy the traditional freedoms of navigation, overflight, scientific research and fishing on the high seas. They would be obliged to adopt, or co-operate with other States in adopting, measures to manage and conserve living resources.

* The territorial sea, exclusive economic zone and continental shelf of islands would be determined in accordance with rules applicable to land territory, but rocks which could not sustain human habitation or economic life would have no economic zone or continental shelf.

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