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Schematic map of maritime zones.
Territorial waters, or a territorial sea, as defined by the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, is a belt of coastal waters extending at most twelve nautical miles from the baseline (usually the mean low-water mark) of a coastal state. The territorial sea is regarded as the sovereign territory of the state, although foreign ships (both military and civilian) are allowed innocent passage through it; this sovereignty also extends to the airspace over and seabed below.

The term "territorial waters" is also sometimes used informally to describe any area of water over which a state has jurisdiction, including internal waters, the contiguous zone, the exclusive economic zone and potentially the continental shelf.


Normally, the baseline from which the territorial sea is measured is the low-water line along the coast as marked on large-scale charts officially recognized by the coastal state. This is either the low-water mark closest to the shore, or alternatively it may be an unlimited distance from permanently exposed land, provided that some portion of elevations exposed at low tide but covered at high tide (like mud flats) is within of permanently exposed land. Straight baselines can alternatively be defined connecting fringing islands along a coast, across the mouths of rivers, or with certain restrictions across the mouths of bays. In this case, a bay is defined as "a well-marked indentation whose penetration is in such proportion to the width of its mouth as to contain land-locked waters and constitute more than a mere curvature of the coast. An indentation shall not, however, be regarded as a bay unless its area is as large as, or larger than, that of the semi-circle whose diameter is a line drawn across the mouth of that indentation". The baseline across the bay must also be no more than in length.

Internal waters

Waters landward of the baseline are defined as internal waters, over which the state has complete jurisdiction: not even innocent passage is allowed. Lakes and rivers are considered internal waters, as are all "archipelagic waters" within the outermost islands of an archipelagic state such as Indonesiamarker, Japanmarker or the Philippinesmarker.

Territorial sea

A state's territorial sea extends up to from its baseline. If this would overlap with another state's territorial sea, the border is taken as the median point between the states' baselines, unless the states in question agree otherwise. A state can also choose to claim a smaller territorial sea.

Conflicts still occur whenever a coastal nation claims an entire gulf as its territorial waters while other nations only recognize the more restrictive definitions of the UN convention. Two recent conflicts occurred in the Gulf of Sidramarker where Libya has claimed the entire gulf as its territorial waters and the U.S. has twice enforced freedom of navigation rights (Gulf of Sidra incident , Gulf of Sidra incident ).

Contiguous zone

The contiguous zone is a band of water extending from the outer edge of the territorial sea to up to from the baseline, within which a state can exert limited control for the purpose of preventing or punishing "infringement of its customs, fiscal, immigration or sanitary laws and regulations within its territory or territorial sea". This will typically be wide, but could be more (if a state has chosen to claim a territorial sea of less than 12 nautical miles), or less, if it would otherwise overlap another state's contiguous zone. However, unlike the territorial sea there is no standard rule for resolving such conflicts, and the states in question must negotiate their own compromise. The United Statesmarker invoked a contiguous zone on 24 September 1999.

Exclusive economic zone

An exclusive economic zone extends from the outer limit of the territorial sea to a maximum of 200 nautical miles (370.4 km) from the territorial sea baseline, thus it includes the contiguous zone. A coastal nation has control of all economic resources within its exclusive economic zone, including fishing, mining, oil exploration, and any pollution of those resources. However, it cannot prohibit passage or loitering above, on, or under the surface of the sea that is in compliance with the laws and regulations adopted by the coastal State in accordance with the provisions of the UN Convention , within that portion of its exclusive economic zone beyond its territorial sea . Before 1982, coastal nations arbitrarily extended their territorial waters in an effort to control activities which are now regulated by the exclusive economic zone, such as offshore oil exploration or fishing rights (see Cod War). Indeed, the exclusive economic zone is still popularly, though erroneously, called a coastal nation's territorial waters.

Continental shelf


Article 76 gives the legal definition of continental shelf of coastal countries. For the physical geography definition, see the continental shelf page.

The continental shelf of a coastal nation extends out to the outer edge of the continental margin but at least from the baselines of the territorial sea if the continental margin does not stretch that far. The outer limit of a country's continental shelf shall not stretch beyond of the baseline, or beyond from the 2,500 meter isobath, which is a line connecting the depths of the seabed at 2,500 meters.

The outer edge of the continental margin for the purposes of this article is defined as:
*a series of lines joining points not more than apart where the thickness of sedimentary rocks is at least 1% of the height of the continental shelf above the foot of the continental slope; or
*a series of lines joining points not more than 60 nautical miles apart that is not more than 60 nautical miles from the foot of the continental margin.
The foot of the continental slope is determined as the point of maximum change in the gradient at its base.

The portion of the continental shelf beyond the 200 nautical mile limit is also known as the extended continental shelf. Countries wishing to delimit their outer continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles have to submit information on their claim to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. The Commission must make recommendations on matters related to the establishment of the outer limits of their continental shelf. The limits established based on these recommendations shall be final and binding.

Countries were supposed to lodge their submissions to extend their continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles within 10 years of UNCLOS coming into force in the country, or by 13 May 2009 for countries where the convention had come into force before 13 May 1999. As of 1 June 2009, 51 submissions have been lodged with the Commission, of which 8 have been deliberated by the Commission and have had recommendations issued. The 8 are (in the order of date of submission): Russian Federation; Brazil; Australia; Ireland; New Zealand; the joint submission by France, Ireland, Spain and the United Kingdom; Norway and Mexico.

For full list, see below

Rights over the continental shelf

Articles 77 to 81 define the rights of a country over its continental shelf.

A coastal nation has control of all resources on or under its continental shelf, living or not, but no control over any living organisms above the shelf that are beyond its exclusive economic zone. This gives it the right to conduct petroleum drilling works and lay submarine cables or pipelines in its continental shelf.


From the eighteenth century until the mid twentieth century, the territorial waters of the British Empire, the United Statesmarker, Francemarker and many other nations were three nautical miles wide. Originally, this was the length of a cannon shot, hence the portion of an ocean that a sovereign state could defend from shore. However, Icelandmarker claimed two nautical miles (3.7 km), Norwaymarker claimed four nautical miles (7.4 km), and Spainmarker claimed six nautical miles (11.1 km) during this period. During incidents such as nuclear weapons testing and fisheries disputes some nations arbitrarily extended their maritime claims to as much as fifty or even two hundred nautical miles. Since the late 20th century the "12 mile limit" has become almost universally accepted. The United Kingdommarker extended its territorial waters from three to twelve nautical miles (22 km) in 1987.

Claims by legislation to the adjacent continental shelf and fishing was first made by the United States government immediately following the Second World War. On September 28, 1945, US President Harry S. Truman issued two proclamations that established government control of natural resources in areas adjacent to the coastline. One of these proclamation was titled "Policy of the United States With Respect to the Natural Resources of the Subsoil andSea Bed of the Continental Shelf", and stipulated in its operative clause:
the Government of the United States regards the natural resources of the subsoil and sea bed of the continental shelf beneath the high seas but contiguous to the coasts of the United States as appertaining to the United States, subject to its jurisdiction and control.

The second proclamation was titled "Policy of the United States With Respect to Coastal Fisheries in Certain Areas of the High Seas", and stated in its operative clause:
the Government of the United States regards it as proper to establish conservation zones in those areas of the high seas contiguous to the coasts of the United States wherein fishing activities have been or in the future may be developed and maintained on a substantial scale.


Pirate radio broadcasting from artificial marine fixtures or anchored ships can be controlled by the affected coastal nation or other nations wherever that broadcast may originate, whether in the territorial sea, exclusive economic zone, the continental shelf or even on the high seas.

Thus a coastal nation has total control over its internal waters, slightly less control over territorial waters, and ostensibly even less control over waters within the contiguous zones. However, it has total control of economic resources within its exclusive economic zone as well as those on or under its continental shelf.

Throughout this article, distances measured in nautical miles are exact legal definitions, while those in kilometres are approximate conversions that are not stated in any law or treaty.

Federal nations, such as the United States, divide control over certain waters between the federal government and the individual states. (See tidelands.)

Territorial sea claims

  • None: Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is not a landlocked country.
  • 3 nautical miles (5.6 km): Gibraltar, Jordan, Palau, Singapore
  • 6 nautical miles (11.1 km): Dominican Republic, Greece, Turkey (but only in the Aegean Sea)
  • : Albania, Algeria, Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belgium, Belize, Brazil, Brunei, Bouvet Island Bulgaria, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Cape Verde, Chile, People's Republic of China, Republic of China, Colombia, Comoros, Cook Islands, Costa Rica, Cote d'Ivoire, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Djibouti, Dominica, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Estonia, Faroe Islands, Fiji, Finland, France, Gabon, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Grenada, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Kiribati, Kuwait, Latvia, Lebanon, Libya, Lithuania, Madagascar, Malaysia, Maldives, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mexico, Micronesia, Monaco, Montenegro, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nauru, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Niue, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Romania, Russia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, São Tomé and Príncipe, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Sweden, Syria, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey (in the Black sea and Mediterranean), Tuvalu, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United Republic of Tanzania, United States of America, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Vietnam, Yemen
  • 12 nautical miles/DLM: Slovenia
  • : Togo
  • : Benin, Republic of the Congo, Ecuador, El Salvador, Liberia, Peru, Somalia
  • Defined by coordinates: the Philippines claim a rectangle, defined by coordinates; the total claim extends beyond 12 nautical miles.

Special cases

  • Australia: A treaty with Papua New Guinea defines the territorial sea boundaries between the islands of Aubusi, Boigu and Moimi and Papua New Guinea on the one hand and the islands of Dauan, Kaumag and Saibai and Papua New Guinea on the other hand, as well as a section of the border of the territorial sea of Saibai. The territorial seas of the islands known as Anchor Cay, Aubusi Island, Black Rocks, Boigu Island, Bramble Cay, Dauan Island, Deliverance Island, East Cay, Kaumag Island, Kerr Islet, Moimi Island, Pearce Cay, Saibai Island, Urnagain Island and Turu Cay do not extend beyond from the baselines.
  • Belize: limit applies from the mouth of Sarstoon River to Ranguana Caye.
  • Cameroon: See article 45 of Law 96-06 of 18 January 1996 on the revision of the Constitution of 2 June 1972.
  • Denmark: Act No. 200 of 7 April 1999 on the delimitation of the territorial sea does not apply to the Faroe Islands (the act applies to the Faroe Islands from 1 June 2002) and Greenland but may become effective by Royal Decree for those parts of the Kingdom of Denmark with the amendments dictated by the special conditions prevailing in the Faroe Islands and Greenland. As far as Greenland is concerned, the outer limit of the external territorial waters may be measured at a distance shorter than from the baselines.
  • Ecuador: The limit is in effect only between the continental territorial sea of Ecuador and its insular territorial sea around the Galápagos Islands.
  • Estonia: In some parts of the Gulf of Finland, defined by coordinates.
  • Finland: Extends, with certain exceptions, to , unless defined by geographical coordinates. In the Gulf of Finland, the outer limit of the territorial sea shall at no place be closer to the midline than , according to the Act amending the Act on the Limits of the Territorial Waters of Finland (981/95).
  • Greece: limit applies for the purpose of regulating civil aviation.
  • India: limit includes Andaman, Nicobar and Lakshadweep.
  • Japan: limit applies to the Soya Strait, the Tsugaru Strait, the eastern and western channels of the Korea Strait and the Osumi Straits only.
  • New Zealand: limit includes Tokelau.
  • Papua New Guinea: in certain areas.
  • Peru: The territorial sea is called 'Maritime Dominion' in article 54 of the 1993 Constitution: " ...In its maritime dominion, Peru exercises sovereignty and jurisdiction, without prejudice to the freedoms of international communication, in accordance with the law and the treaties ratified by the State..."
  • Turkey: in the Aegean Sea, in the Black Sea.
  • United Kingdom: Also . (3 nautical miles in Anguilla, Guernsey, British Indian Ocean Territory, British Virgin Islands, Gibraltar, Monserrat and Pitcairn; in United Kingdom, Jersey, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Isle of Man, Saint Helena and Dependencies, South Georgia, South Sandwich Islands, and Turks and Caicos Islands.)

Contiguous zone claims

  • None: Albania, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Benin, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brunei, Cameroon, Colombia, Comoros, Congo, Cook Islands, Costa Rica, Cote d'Ivoire, Croatia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ecuador, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Estonia, Fiji, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Grenada, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Iceland, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kenya, Kiribati, Kuwait, Latvia, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Lithuania, Malaysia, Mauritius, Micronesia, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, Nigeria, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Poland, São Tomé and Príncipe, Singapore, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, Somalia, Suriname, Sweden, Togo, Tonga, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United Republic of Tanzania
  • : Finland
  • : Venezuela
  • : Bangladesh, Gambia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan
  • : Algeria, Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Canada, Cape Verde, Chile, People's Republic of China, Cuba, Cyprus, Denmark, Djibouti, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Egypt, France, Gabon, Ghana, Haiti, Honduras, India, Iran, Jamaica, Japan, Madagascar, Maldives, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mexico, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nauru, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Panama, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Romania, Russia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Syria, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Tuvalu, United Arab Emirates, United States of America, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Vietnam, Yemen
  • : Democratic People's Republic of Korea; military zone. Army Command Announcement of 1 August 1977.

Extended continental shelf claims

As of 13 May 2009, 51 submissions by 44 countries have been lodged for claims over their extended continental shelf. Some countries have multiple submissions and joint submissions with other countries. Recommendations have been given for 8 of the submissions.

Submissions with recommendations

List with date of submission and adoption of recommendation by the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.
  • Australia (15 November 2004, 9 April 2008)
  • Brazil (17 May 2004, 4 April 2007)
  • Joint submission by France, Ireland, Spain and the United Kingdom - in the area of the Celtic Sea and the Bay of Biscay (19 May 2006, 24 March 2009)
  • Ireland - Porcupine Abyssal Plain (25 May 2005, 5 April 2007)
  • Mexico - in respect of the western polygon in the Gulf of Mexico (13 December 2007, 31 March 2009)
  • New Zealand (19 April 2006, 22 August 2008)
  • Norway - in the North East Atlantic and the Arctic (27 November 2006, 27 March 2009)
  • Russia (20 December 2001, 27 June 2002)

Other submissions

List in order of date of submission, with date of submission.
  • France - in respect of the areas of French Guiana and New Caledonia (22 May 2007)
  • France - areas of the French Antilles and the Kerguelen Islands (5 February 2009)
  • Barbados (8 May 2008)
  • United Kingdom - Ascension Island (9 May 2008)
  • Indonesia - North west of Sumatra Island (16 June 2008)
  • Japan (12 November 2008)
  • Joint submission by the Republic of Mauritius and the Republic of Seychelles - in the region of the Mascarene Plateau (1 December 2008)
  • Suriname (5 December 2008)
  • Myanmar (16 December 2008)
  • Somalia (17 April 2009)
  • Yemen - in respect of south east of Socotra Island (20 March 2009)
  • United Kingdom - in respect of Hatton Rockall Area (31 March 2009)
  • Ireland - in respect of Hatton-Rockall Area (31 March 2009)
  • Uruguay (7 April 2009)
  • Philippines - in the Benham Plateaumarker region (8 April 2009)
  • The Cook Islands - concerning the Manihiki Plateau (16 April 2009)
  • Fiji (20 April 2009)
  • Argentina (21 April 2009)
  • Ghana (28 April 2009)
  • Iceland - in the Ægir Basin area and in the western and southern parts of Reykjanes Ridge (29 April 2009)
  • Denmark - in the area north of the Faroe Islands (29 April 2009)
  • Pakistan (30 April 2009)
  • Norway - in respect of Bouvetøya and Dronning Maud Land (4 May 2009)
  • South Africa - in respect of the mainland of the territory of the Republic of South Africa (5 May 2009)
  • Joint submission by the Federated States of Micronesia, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands - concerning the Ontong Java Plateau (5 May 2009)
  • Joint submission by Malaysia and Viet Nam - in the southern part of the South China Sea (6 May 2009)
  • Joint submission by France and South Africa - in the area of the Crozet Archipelago and the Prince Edward Islands (6 May 2009)
  • Kenya (6 May 2009)
  • Mauritius - in the region of Rodrigues Island (6 May 2009)
  • Viet Nam - in North Area (of the South China Sea) (7 May 2009)
  • Nigeria (7 May 2009)
  • Seychelles - concerning the Northern Plateau Region (7 May 2009)
  • France - in respect of La Réunion Island and Saint-Paul and Amsterdam Islands (8 May 2009)
  • Palau (8 May 2009)
  • Côte d'Ivoire (8 May 2009)
  • Sri Lanka (8 May 2009)
  • Portugal (11 May 2009)
  • United Kingdom - in respect of the Falkland Islands, and of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (11 May 2009)
  • Tonga (11 May 2009)
  • Spain - in respect of the area of Galicia (11 May 2009)
  • India (11 May 2009)
  • Trinidad and Tobago (12 May 2009)
  • Namibia (12 May 2009)
  • Cuba (1 June 2009)

See also

Notes and References

  1. UN Convention on the Law or the Sea: Territorial Sea and Contiguous Zone
  2. U.S. Vice President announces contiguous zone
  3. UN Convention on the Law of the Sea: Exclusive Economic Zone
  4. UN Convention on the Law or the Sea: Continental Shelf
  5. text in Department of State Bulletin, September 30, 1945, p. 485
  6. Ibid, p. 486
  7. UN Convention on the Law or the Sea: High Seas (Article 109)
  8. Lov om Norges territorialfarvann og tilstøtende sone §7
  9. Lov om afgrænsning af søterritoriet
  10. Anordning nr. 240 fra 30. April 2002 om ikrafttræden for Færøerne af lov om afgrænsning af søterritoriet
  11. Lov om Norges territorialfarvann og tilstøtende sone §2
  12. DLM means that "the national legislation establishes the limits of a given zone only by reference to the delimitation of maritime boundaries with adjacent or opposite States, or to a median (equidistant) line in the absence of a maritime boundary delimitation agreement".
  13. UN confirms Australia’s rights over extra 2.5 million square kilometres of seabed. Minister for Resources and Energy, The Hon Martin Ferguson AM MP, Media Release, 21 April 2008. With map of areas.
  14. Ireland extends its underwater territory
  15. Ireland can extend territorial waters
  16. UN confirms NZ’s extended seabed claim, New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Updated 20 January 2009. Retrieved 29 May 2009.
  17. Continental shelf of Somalia

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