International Sea Law

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International sea law today is governed primarily by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which is an international agreement that arose out of the third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, which occurred from 1973-1982.  158 countries, as well as the European Community, have joined in the UNCLOS, and it is considered to contain customary international laws as to maritime issues.  Among the issues addressed by the UNCLOS are the setting of limits as to coastlines and waters; generally, territorial waters extend out to 12 nautical miles from the baseline specifically defined by the UNCLOS. 

Legal Jurisdiction of a Country at Sea

The UNCLOS also establishes the contiguous zone, which is an area that extends another 12 nautical miles beyond territorial waters, which permits a country’s legal jurisdiction over issues involving pollution, taxation, customs, and immigration.  Exclusive economic zones, on the other hand, extend out to 200 nautical miles from the baseline as defined by the UNCLOS, and were established in order to avoid territorial disputes over fishing rights and offshore oil platforms.  Furthermore, the UNCLOS defines the continental shelf, which sets forth the rights of a country to harvest mineral and non-living material in the defined area(s).  Finally, the UNCLOS establishes certain rights and responsibilities of countries in terms of safeguarding the marine environment and protecting the availability of scientific maritime research.  The UNCLOS also established the International Seabed Authority (ISA), and an exclusive legal process for dealing with mineral exploitation in deep seabed areas.  The ISA has the authority to authorize seabed exploration and mining, as well as to collect and distribute seabed mining royalties.

If you have questions regarding a situation that involves international sea law, you are well-advised to contact an experienced maritime law lawyer for assistance in dealing with your issue. As this is a particularly specialized area of the law, you should seek an attorney who deals with international maritime matters on a regular basis.

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