Maritime Zone

Maritime Zones

Author: Ayush Jain, Unitedworld School of Law, Gandhinagar, Gujarat


Definition: A Maritime Zone is a belt of the sea which is defined by some treaties or conventions and on which the coastal State executes jurisdictional rights.

These zones are defined to exercise the areas of exclusive National Rights over a mineral or the biological resources and the freedom of navigation. The UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) is the one and only International Convention which directs a framework for a state, hence it provides a different legal status to different maritime zones of the world.

Today, some of the maritime zones are still undefined and many efforts are made to clarify these areas of doubt.

What is the significance of Maritime Zones?

Earlier the marine bodies were free from the regulation of doing fishing, shipping, or doing resource exploitation. But over time, the coastal areas of the countries had an increased interest in national security and the enforcement of laws to protect its commerce and marine resources around the coastal zones. Hence, as a result, a balance was to be kept to maintain the freedom of navigation that many foreign maritime interests had relied upon. So this need for balance is captured in the history of the law of the sea.

The determination of Maritime Zones is a concept of evaluating border issues. These zones define the jurisdiction of the water bodies prevailing near the coastline of a country. The laws which are followed in the territorial region of a country must be followed within these defined maritime boundaries. The importance of these zones or boundaries is that they prevent many disputes between the countries regarding the jurisdiction as well as the laws prevailing in these maritime boundaries and also to resolve the disputes which have arisen between any two or more states if any.

The governing body i.e. UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) works on the Unresolved Maritime Boundaries like the disputed maritime border between North and South Korea in the West Sea.

Types of Maritime Zones

The various types of maritime zones are as follows:-

  • Baseline
  • Internal Waters
  • Three Nautical Mile Line
  • Natural Resources Boundary
  • Continental Shelf
  • High Seas & Deep Ocean Floor
  • Archipelagic waters
  • The Area
  • Inland waters
  • Territorial sea
  • Contiguous zone
  • Exclusive Economic Zone
  1. Baseline: The Baseline is a Low-Water Line which is present along the coast. It is officially recognized by the coastal state.
  2. Internal Waters: Internal waters are all the water bodies that are on the Landward side of the baseline of the country. Internal waters include ports, rivers, lakes, etc. The state has the full authority of jurisdiction and to set any kind of law for internal water bodies.
  • Three Nautical Mile Line: It refers to an old traditional and now obsolete maritime boundary that defines a country’s territorial waters which are used for trade purposes.

  • Natural Resources Boundary:  Natural Resources Boundary is the seaward limit of the submerged lands of Puerto Rico, Texas and the Gulf coast of Florida. It coincides with the inner limit of the outer continental shelf under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act[1].

  • Continental Shelf: Every coastal state has a continental shelf that comprises the seabed as well as subsoil of the areas which run beyond the territorial sea.  This extension is naturally formed as the seabed slopes away from the coast followed by a steep slope and then a more gradual slope leading to the deep seabed floor.

  • High Seas & Deep Ocean Floor: The high sea includes all the parts of the sea which are not included in any of the maritime zones i.e. exclusive economic zones, the territorial sea or the internal waters of a State or in the archipelagic waters of a state.

  • Archipelagic waters: If a country is an archipelago, to resolve the confusion a baseline is drawn between the outermost points of the islands but only if these islands are close to each other. Hence, the state has full jurisdiction on these Archipelagic waters.

  • The Area: This area comprises seabed and subsoil beyond the limits of national jurisdiction of the state The Area and its resources are the common heritage of mankind, and none of the State can claim or exercise sovereignty or sovereign rights over any part of the Area or its resources.

  • Inland waters: Inland waters refers to all the zones which are inside the baseline of the country.

  •  Territorial sea: The territorial sea is 12 Nautical Miles from the sea baseline. This area of the territorial sea is under the jurisdiction of the state itself and hence the countries are free to set laws and to regulate the use of its resources.

  • Contiguous zone: The Contiguous zone is the area which is 12 Nautical Miles beyond the Territorial waters and 24 nautical miles from the baseline limit of the state.

  • Exclusive Economic Zone: The Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is beyond and also adjacent to the territorial sea that extends the seaward up to 200 nm from its baselines of the state. In this area, the country has the sole exploitation rights over all natural resources which are coming under the EEZs. The EEZs are made to resolve the clashes over the Fishing Rights and Oil Rights.

United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) was founded on 10th December 1982 in Montego Bay, Jamaica, and came into effect on 16 November 1994. It is a very lengthy document containing 446 Articles which are grouped in 7 parts in 9 annexes. UNCLOS is available in 5 languages i.e. Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish, and has a total of  157 signatories and 168 parties to it. Objectives include peaceful use of the seas and oceans, International Communications, equitable and efficient utilization of ocean resources, and preserving the marine environment, Maritime safety, e.t.c. This convention replaced the quad-treaty 1958 Convention on the High Seas. The UNCLOS came into effect because in the 20th century many countries expressed their need to extend national claims on mineral resources of marine bodies, fish stocks, provide means of pollution controls, and many other jurisdictional rights.

Some features of the UNCLOS are as follows:-

  • UNCLOS is currently the only binding and prevailing Law of Sea.

  • It provides the freedom of navigation to the citizens as well as the security forces of the state.

  • UNCLOS gives the Freedom of laying submarine cables and pipelines in the seabed without any interference from any other country.

  • It also provides freedom to construct artificial man-made islands and other installations permitted under international law.

  • UNCLOS attempts to codify the international law of the sea for the whole world for better safety and security.

The link of the official document from the United Nations is provided here:-

Disputes regarding Unresolved Maritime Boundaries

Limiting the maritime boundary is a very sensitive question on State sovereignty, sovereign rights, jurisdiction, and title to valuable natural resources. Today political and security risks of boundary disputes are high. Hence, the unresolved maritime boundaries between the states can hamper bilateral relations and even international peace and security. Article 33[2] of the UN charter binds the parties of the dispute for a peaceful settlement. The UNCLOS is continuously working on these disputes which are currently prevailing, some of them are as follows:-

  • In the case of Mozambique, apart from the agreed maritime boundary with Tanzania, all the other maritime boundaries with the neighboring States of the Mozambique i.e. Comoros, Madagascar, French Possessions, and South Africa are still pending.

  • The disputed maritime border between the North and South Korea in the West Sea is also having many disputes for the maritime boundary of the state.

The various methods which can be chosen for resolving maritime disputes are as follows:

  • Negotiation
  • Mediation
  • Conciliation
  • Arbitration
  • International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea
  • International Court of Justice
  • Commission on the limits of the continental shelf (CLCS)


Maritime bodies are very useful for every country having coastal borders, but it should be considered as a gift of nature by God and should be taken as a thing to raise wars and disputes. Each country comes into action when it comes to the security of the nation hence, this gives rise to many disputes and arguments. The maritime zones are made to nullify the confusion of jurisdictional rights between two or more countries.  UNCLOS is working continuously to resolve disputes and maintain peace as well as harmony between the states and their citizens. So, to conclude we can say that the Maritime Zones of the water bodies play a very important role in reducing the conflicts between the countries.



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