How Are International Waters And Maritime Zones Regulated?

International waters are the water bodies that lie beyond territorial boundaries, and are also known as the high seas. However, far from being a lawless oceanic wilderness, these areas are managed by a complex framework of regulations. Here’s a brief overview of the way seas and oceans are regulated.

Internal waters

Internal waters refer to ports, bays, estuaries, rivers, lakes and other inland water bodies within the boundaries of a country. The country’s laws and regulations apply to all national and international users of inland waters, and the country has the right to establish new laws and enforce existing ones.

Territorial sea boundaries

Territorial waters lie within 12 nautical miles of a country’s coastline. They are measured from the low water line, also known as the base line. The country has full sovereignty over this area of water, and its laws will apply to any vessel and crew who enter the waters, regardless of where the vessel is registered or the nationality of the crew and passengers.

Contiguous zones

Contiguous zone surface waters extend up to 24 nautical miles from the baseline. The country or coastal state has some jurisdiction over this area, including environmental regulations, but its laws do not apply to navigational, underwater, or overflight matters.

Continental shelf

The continental shelf is a defined maritime zone that can extend up to or over 200 nautical miles beyond the territorial sea. The coastal state has certain sovereign rights over the extraction and use of natural resources within this zone.

Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)

An EEZ can extend up to 200 nautical miles from a country’s baseline, and it grants the country sovereign rights over natural resources including fish and fossil fuels. However it must manage these resources in line with the UNCLOS framework.

The high seas

The high seas, also known as international waters, are not governed by any one particular state and are subject to the principle of “the freedom of the high seas.” This means that all countries have fundamental rights to freedom of navigation, fishing, overflight, scientific research, and the laying of underwater cables and pipelines.

The exploration and exploitation of natural resources in international waters is subject to UNCLOS rules and regulations.

The high seas are subject to the regulations of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), a legal framework which was established in 1982. All countries are subject to these regulations, which include matters concerning piracy, human trafficking, drug trafficking, pollution, conservation, and the use of marine resources.

The international waters usually start where the territorial waters of a country or state end, usually 12 nautical miles from the base line.

However, individual coastal states retain the “right to hot pursuit.’ This means that they are entitled to pursue a foreign vessel in international waters if it has breached the rules or regulations of the state when it was within the territorial waters or contiguous zone.

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