Q What is the context ?
A India remains committed to promoting a free, open and rules-based order rooted in international law and undaunted by coercion, the Centre informed Parliament while reiterating support for the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Q What is the Background of UNCLOS ?
- UNCLOS replaces the older ‘freedom of the seas’ concept, dating from the 17th century.
- According to this concept, national rights were limited to a specified belt of water extending from a nation’s coastlines, usually 3 nautical miles (5.6 km; 3.5 mi).
- This was considered according to the ‘cannon shot’ rule developed by the Dutch rulers.
Q What are some key details about UNCLOS ?
- UNCLOS is sometimes referred to as the Law of the Sea Convention or the Law of the Sea treaty.
- It came into operation and became effective from 16th November 1982.
- It defines the rights and responsibilities of nations with respect to their use of the world’s oceans, establishing guidelines for businesses, the environment, and the management of marine natural resources.
- It has created three new institutions on the international scene :
- International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea,
- International Seabed Authority
- Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf
Note: UNCLOS does not deal with matters of territorial disputes or to resolve issues of sovereignty, as that field is governed by rules of customary international law on the acquisition and loss of territory.
India and UNCLOS
- As a State party to the UNCLOS, India promoted utmost respect for the UNCLOS, which established the international legal order of the seas and oceans.
- India also supported freedom of navigation and overflight, and unimpeded commerce based on the principles of international law, reflected notably in the UNCLOS 1982.
- India is committed to safeguarding maritime interests and strengthening security in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) to ensure a favorable and positive maritime environment.
Q What are Major conventions of UNCLOS ?
A There had been three major conferences of UNCLOS:
- UNCLOS I: It resulted in the successful implementation of various conventions regarding Territorial Sea and Contiguous Zones, Continental Shelf, High Seas, Fishing Rights.
- UNCLOS II: No agreement was reached over breadth of territorial waters.
- UNCLOS III: It introduced a number of provisions. The most significant issues covered were setting limits, navigation, archipelagic status and transit regimes, exclusive economic zones (EEZs), continental shelf jurisdiction, deep seabed mining, the exploitation regime, protection of the marine environment, scientific research, and settlement of disputes.
The convention set the limit of various areas, measured from a carefully defined baseline.
Q What are the important Terminologies of UNCLOS ?
A These terminologies are as follows:
- The convention set the limit of various areas, measured from a carefully defined baseline.
- Normally, a sea baseline follows the low-water line, but when the coastline is deeply indented, has fringing islands or is highly unstable, straight baselines may be used.
(2) Internal waters
- It covers all water and waterways on the landward side of the baseline.
- The coastal state is free to set laws, regulate use, and use any resource. Foreign vessels have no right of passage within internal waters.
- A vessel in the high seas assumes jurisdiction under the internal laws of its flag State.
(3) Territorial waters
- Out to 12 nautical miles (22 km, 14 miles) from the baseline, the coastal state is free to set laws, regulate use, and use any resource.
- Vessels were given the Right of Innocent Passage through any territorial waters.
- “Innocent passage” is defined by the convention as passing through waters in an expeditious and continuous manner, which is not “prejudicial to the peace, good order or the security” of the coastal state.
- Fishing, polluting, weapons practice, and spying are not “innocent”, and submarines and other underwater vehicles are required to navigate on the surface and to show their flag.
- Nations can also temporarily suspend innocent passage in specific areas of their territorial seas, if doing so is essential for the protection of their security.
(4) Archipelagic waters
- The convention set the definition of “Archipelagic States”, which also defines how the state can draw its territorial borders.
- All waters inside this baseline are designated “Archipelagic Waters”.
- The state has sovereignty over these waters mostly to the extent it has over internal waters, but subject to existing rights including traditional fishing rights of immediately adjacent states.
- Foreign vessels have right of innocent passage through archipelagic waters, but archipelagic states may limit innocent passage to designated sea lanes.
(5) Contiguous zone
- Beyond the 12-nautical-mile (22 km) limit, there is a further 12 nautical miles (22 km) from the territorial sea baseline limit, the contiguous zone.
- Here a state can continue to enforce laws in four specific areas (customs, taxation, immigration, and pollution) if the infringement started or is about to occur within the state’s territory or territorial waters.
- This makes the contiguous zone a hot pursuit area.
(6) Exclusive economic zones (EEZs)
- These extend 200 nm from the baseline.
- Within this area, the coastal nation has sole exploitation rights over all natural resources.
- In casual use, the term may include the territorial sea and even the continental shelf.
(7) Continental shelf
- The continental shelf is defined as the natural prolongation of the land territory to the continental margin’s outer edge, or 200 nautical miles (370 km) from the coastal state’s baseline, whichever is greater.