UNCLOS Maritime Zones UPSC :All you need to know

“UNCLOS” is an extensive codification of international law for the conservation and management of marine resources. It contains rules pertaining to activities such as the exclusive economic zone, traditional marine resource use, the protection of the marine environment, and the settlement of disputes relating to maritime claims and questions.


  • It is an international agreement that resulted from the third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS III).

o It was adopted in 1982 and replaced the quad-treaty 1958 Convention on the High Seas and came into force in 1994.

  • It is also called the Law of the Sea Convention or the Law of the Sea treaty.
  • 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.
  • Currently 167 countries and the European Union have joined in the Convention.
  • India signed the Convention in 1982 and ratified in 1995.
  • The Convention has created three new institutions on the international scene:


  • It is an independent judicial body established by the UNCLOS to adjudicate disputes arising out of the interpretation and application of the Convention.
  • Disputes relating to the Convention related to the living resources of the sea, protection and preservation of the marine concern the delimitation of maritime zones, navigation, conservation and management environment and marine scientific research.
  • It is composed of 21 independent members.
  • It is open to States Parties to the Convention and other than States Parties like state enterprises and private entities.


  • It is an intergovernmental body based in Kingston, Jamaica, established by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
  • It is mandated to organize, regulate and control all mineral-related activities in the international seabed area beyond the limits of national jurisdiction, an area underlying most of the world’s oceans.
  • All Parties to the 1982 UNCLOS are members of ISA.


  • It has been assigned to play mainly two significant roles in the establishment of the outer limits of the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles of a Coastal State.

o to evaluate the claim of a Coastal State for an area of the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles.

o provide scientific and technical advice to the Coastal State in its preparation of its submission of the claim.

  • It shall consist of 21 members who shall be experts in the field of geology, geophysics or hydrography, elected by States Parties to the Convention from among their nationals.


  • It was established by the Convention for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes, concluded at The Hague in 1899.
  • It is an intergovernmental organization providing a variety of dispute resolution services involving various combinations of states, state entities, international organizations and private parties.
  • PCA has a three-part organizational structure consisting of:

o an Administrative Council that oversees its policies and budgets,

o a panel of independent potential arbitrators known as the Members of the Court,

o its Secretariat, known as the International Bureau, headed by the Secretary-General.

  • It’s headquartered is situated in Hague, Netherlands.
  • India is its member.

Is unclos legally binding Upsc?

International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS)

Established by the UNCLOS, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea is an independent judicial body that adjudicates disputes arising out of the convention. ITLOS was signed on December 10, 1982, and entered into force on November 16, 1994.

What are the 4 areas that covers maritime territory?

– The maritime zones of the Philippines are comprised of the 5 Internal, Waters, Archipelagic Waters, Territorial Sea, Contiguous Zone, Exclusive Economic 6 Zone (EEZ) and Continental Shelf. All territories of the Philippines generate their respective 7 maritime zones in accordance with international law.

What is EEZ ?

An Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is a zone in the sea prescribed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) over which a country has certain rights. In this article, you can read all about EEZs, which is a part of both the economy and the geography segments of the UPSC syllabus.

What are the five 5 main zones unclos has sectioned in the sea?

UNCLOS sections the oceans, splitting marine areas into five main zones, each with a different legal status: Internal Waters, Territorial Sea, Contiguous Zone, Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and the High Seas.

Which country did not sign unclos?

An additional three UN member states (Egypt, Sudan, USA) have signed, but not ratified the agreement.

Why did the US not sign unclos?

The U.S. has not accepted UNCLOS because of opposition from Republicans in the Senate, where treaties must be approved by a two-thirds’ vote. Failure to act on the treaty has drawn regular critiques from U.S. President Barack Obama.

Which country has the largest territorial waters?

These regions are adjacent and beyond a country’s territorial waters and do not extend beyond 200 nautical miles (nmi) from a nation’s coast.

Countries with the Largest Exclusive Economic Zones.

Rank      Country Exclusive Economic Zone Area ( km2)

1              France  11,691,000

2              United States     11,351,000

3              Australia              8,505,348

4              Russia   7,566,673


  • There is the low-water line called Baseline along the coast as officially recognized by the coastal state.
  • INTERNAL WATERS: These are waters on the landward side of the baseline from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured.

o Each coastal state has full sovereignty over its internal waters as like its land territory. E.g. bays, ports, inlets, rivers and lakes that are connected to the sea.

  • TERRITORIAL SEA: It extends seaward up to 12 nautical miles (nm) from its baselines.

o The coastal states have sovereignty and jurisdiction over the territorial sea. These rights extend not only on the surface but also to the seabed, subsoil, and even airspace.

  • CONTIGUOUS ZONE: It extends seaward up to 24 nm from its baselines.

o It is an intermediary zone between the territorial sea and the high seas.

o The coastal state has the right to both prevent and punish infringement of fiscal, immigration, sanitary, and customs laws within its territory and territorial sea.

o Unlike the territorial sea, the contiguous zone only gives jurisdiction to a state on the ocean’s surface and floor. It does not provide air and space rights.

  • EXCLUSIVE ECONOMIC ZONE (EEZ): Each coastal State may claim an EEZ beyond and adjacent to its territorial sea that extends seaward up to 200 nm from its baselines.

o Within EEZ, a coastal state has sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring, exploiting, conserving and managing natural resources, whether living or non-living, of the seabed and subsoil.

o Rights to carry out activities like the production of energy from the water, currents and wind.

o Unlike the territorial sea and the contiguous zone, the EEZ only allows for the above-mentioned resource rights. It does not give a coastal state the right to prohibit or limit freedom of navigation or overflight, subject to very limited exceptions.

  • HIGH SEAS: The ocean surface and the water column beyond the EEZ are referred to as the high seas.

o It is beyond any national jurisdiction. States can conduct activities in these areas as long as they are for peaceful purposes, such as transit, marine science, and undersea exploration.


UNCLOS provides for a dispute resolution mechanism regarding maritime boundaries in which member states can choose either the

  • International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea
  • International Court of Justice
  • Arbitral tribunal (constituted in accordance with Annex VII, UNCLOS)
  • Special arbitral tribunal (constituted in accordance with Annex VIII, UNCLOS)

The latest UNCLOS is UNCLOS III which covers all the vital issues regarding the maritime boundaries. This convention introduced a number of provisions and covered the most significant issues such as 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. This treaty defines the following terms:

Internal waters

Internal Waters refers to the all water and waterways on the landward side of the baseline of a country. In the internal waters a country is free to set laws, regulate its use and use of its resources. There is no interference of the foreign countries.

Territorial waters

Territorial waters refer to 12 Nautical Miles from the baseline. In this area the countries are free to set laws, regulate use and also use its resources. However, the foreign vessels are NOT given all rights to passage through except “Innocent Passage”.

The innocent passage refers to the passing through the waters which is not prejudicial to peace and security. However, the nations have right to suspend the innocent passage. The submarine while passing through other country’s territorial waters has to navigate on the surface and show their flags.

Archipelagic waters

If the country is an archipelago or has an archipelago under it, a baseline is drawn between the outermost points of the islands, provided that these islands are close to each other. All water inside this is called Archipelagic Waters. The state has full sovereignty over these waters very much similar to the internal waters and the foreign vessels are allowed for innocent passage through archipelagic waters.

Contiguous Zone

The contiguous zone refers to the area 12 Nautical Miles beyond the Territorial waters. This means that it is 24 Nautical Miles from the baseline limit. In this zone the country can enforce laws only in 4 areas viz. pollution, taxation, customs, and immigration.

Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs)

Exclusive Economic Zones refers to the area from the edge of the territorial sea out to 200 nautical miles from the baseline. In this area, the country has sole exploitation rights over all natural resources. The most important reason to introduce EEZ was to halt the clashes over the Fishing Rights and Oil Rights. In the EEZ, the foreign vessels have freedom of navigation and over flight, subject to the regulation of the coastal states. Foreign states are allowed to lay submarine pipes and cables.

Provision of the Law of the Sea Convention

The Law of the Sea Convention introduced a number of provisions and covered the most significant issues such as setting limits, navigation, archipelagic status and transit regimes, exclusive economic zones, jurisdiction of continental shelf, deep seabed mining, the exploitation regime, protection of the marine environment, scientific research, and settlement of disputes. The key areas of the convention are discussed below:

Law of the Sea

  • Internal waters: According to this treaty, country can make laws without interference of the alien country; regulate its use and use of its resources. Foreign vessels have no right of passage within internal waters without permission.
  • United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
  • Territorial waters: This convention defined the territorial water baseline as 12 Nautical miles in which parent country is free to set laws, regulate use and use of its resources. Alien vessel are not allowed to enter within the territorial water baseline without permission except innocent passage (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.)
  • Archipelagic waters: According to this convention, States consisting of archipelagos, provided certain conditions are satisfied, can be considered as “archipelagic States”, the outermost islands being connected by “archipelagic baselines” so that the waters inside these lines are archipelagic waters (similar to internal waters but with a right of innocent passage and a right of archipelagic sea lanes passage similar to transit passage through straits, for third States).
  • The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)
  • Exclusive Economic Zone: According to this convention, a 200-mile exclusive economic zone including the seabed and the water column, may be established by coastal States  in which such States exercise sovereign rights and jurisdiction on all resource-related activities, including artificial islands and installations, marine scientific research and the protection of the environment; other States enjoy in the exclusive economic zone high seas freedoms of navigation, overflight, laying of cables and pipelines and other internationally lawful uses of the sea connected with these freedoms; a rule of reciprocal “due regard” applies to ensure compatibility between the exercise of the rights of the coastal States and of those of other States in the exclusive economic zone.
  • Bonn Convention, Washington and the Ramsar Convention
  • Continental Shelf: This convention defined the external limits of the continental shelf which may exceed 200 nautical miles until the natural prolongation ends. However, it may never exceed 350 nautical miles from the baseline; or it may never exceed 100 nautical miles beyond the line connecting the depth of 2,500 meters. Coastal states have the right to use mineral and non-living material in the subsoil of its continental shelf, to the exclusion of others.
  • Contiguous zone: The area of the 12 Nautical miles beyond the territorial waters baseline is called Contiguous zone. According to the convention, 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. The countries that coming within the ambit of this zone can enforce laws only in four areas, i.e. Pollution, taxation, customs and immigration.

The Convention on the law of the Sea treaty which is also known as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) covers all the vital issues regarding the maritime boundaries

What are the key points that can be inferred from the recent judgement?

Judgements in Favor of India:

According to the tribunal, the actions of the Italian military officers breached India’s freedom of navigation under UNCLOS Article 87(1)(a) and 90 and India is entitled for payment of compensation in connection with loss of life, physical harm, material damage to property and moral harm suffered by captain and crew of ‘St Antony’, the Indian vessel.

It mentioned that India was entitled to compensation and asked India and Italy to consult on the amount of compensation due.

It struck down Italy’s claim for compensation for the marines for the duration of their stay at the Italian Embassy.

Judgements against the interests  of India:

India had called on the Hamburg based ITLOS to adjudge and declare that PCA has no jurisdiction concerning the case submitted to it by Italy. However, a majority of the court’s five-member bench ruled 4-1 that it had jurisdiction in the matter.

According to the verdict (3:2 verdict), Both India and Italy had concurrent jurisdiction over the incident and a valid, legal basis to institute criminal proceedings against the marines. However, Italy would have jurisdiction to decide on the question of immunity for the marines and the marines were entitled to immunity as they were acting on behalf of a state. Thus, India is precluded from exercising its jurisdiction.hile the Secretary-General of the United Nations receives instruments of ratification and accession and the UN provides support for meetings of states party to the Convention, the United Nations Secretariat has no direct operational role in the implementation of the Convention. A UN specialized agency, the International Maritime Organization, does play a role, however, as well as other bodies such as the International Whaling Commission and the International Seabed Authority (ISA), which was established by the Convention itself.

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