Laws of the sea were evolved during the time of Grotius and they were observed by the States as customary rules of International Law. International custom may mean a kind of practice which is qualified and distinguished from others by the existence of a corresponding legal obligation to act in according to the practice. In short, customary rules are those rules which are followed or practiced by most of the States through ages by habit ( if not by all). The obligation is based on the common consent of nations extending over a period of time of sufficient duration. The entire sea was divided into three parts, viz; territorial sea, contiguous sea and the high sea. It was learnt that Russia in 1909 claimed territorial zone upto 12 miles and few other countries claimed upto only 4 miles.


The UN security council and the Secretariat were of the view that there was a need to codify the rules regarding the Law of the seas and to come out with permanent solution vis-a-vis the maritime territorial limit of any nation state. With regard to this, an agreement was signed in 1982 in Montego Bay, Jamaica for the establishment of UNCLOS which ultimately came into force in 1999. UNCLOS stands for the United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea. For the usage of the world’s seas and oceans, an international agreement was established so that it can be used to conserve marine resources and also to secure the preservation and protection of all the living beings of the sea. The convention defines several maritime zones like  the baseline, the territorial waters, the contiguous zone, the exclusive economic zone, the continental shelf, the International seabed area[1]. Each country can use the exclusive economic zone for economical purpose.


As early as the 17th century, Customary International Law laid down the fact that a country’s territorial limit from the coastal sea shall be limited to 3 nautical miles under which the country was allowed to exercise absolute jurisdiction and no foreign vessels or ships were to be allowed within that territory, except for certain restricted conditions. This 3-mile rule was known as the “cannon-shot rule”.

Article 297 of the constitution of India governs India’s position in the matter of Law of Sea which includes continental shelf, EEZ and other maritime zones. Maritime zone Law defines Indian sovereignty over the waters and the seabed, as well as the land and airspace above those waters. An area of the boundary line is where each point is 12 nautical miles from the closet point to the baseline[2].

There was a dispute with China which is famously called ‘The South China Dispute’. The facts of the case are that at the time of Ming period, the entire region, boarding the south China sea along the coast of Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines were shown to be Chinese territory. According to the Chinese government, they claim the territorial waters of many southeast Asian Nations as its own territory and started calling it nine-dash line territory. In 1988, the Imperial Chinese navy along with the Chinese air force repeatedly intruded into the territory of water of the Philippines and started the construction of artificial islands called the Spratly and Johnson group of islands. The Philippine government strongly protested this movement. Repeated requests were made by the Philippino government to the Chinese authority to stop construction but was ignored by the communist party of China. The Philippino government approached the Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2015 to resolve the South China Sea dispute. The Permanent Court of Arbitration held the nine-dash line theory of China grossly inaccurate and also held the construction of Spratly and Johnson islands illegal. Even after the Permanent court of Arbitration decided the matter against China, it refused to agree to the decision and the Chinese navy started building large seaports in the Spratly harbour. Since 2016, China has started building more islands in the territorial waters of Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia.


A contiguous zone is something which is outside and adjacent to the territorial waters of a coastal country. As the countries cannot effectively protect all their interests because of the limited interference on the territorial sea, so, therefore, the concept of adjacent zone was developed. According to Article 33 of the 1982 Convention, Contiguous zone must not be more than 24 nautical miles from the baseline where the territorial sea area is measured[3].


It basically means the zone around the continent that extends from a low water line to depth and usually marked towards greater depth. This is a submerged seabed that borders continental landmass and is found as an extension or part of that land.


A sea zone where a State has several rights regarding the exploration and use of marine resources including energy production from water and wind is called Exclusive economic zone. It stretches from the baseline, until 200 nautical miles (370.4 km) from its coast. On one hand, territorial sea confers full sovereignty over the waters while on the other hand, EEZ is merely a sovereign right which refers to coastal State right below the surface of the sea.


Under Part VII Article 92 as well as Article 217(1) of UNCLOS, 1982, the Flag State rule principal states that a vessel, ship, aircraft, the submarine has to be registered in a particular country for both legal & practical purposes so as to display the flag of the registered country. The Flag State rule is applicable for both military and commercial ships, also for all kinds of oil tanks and even cruise ships. The concept can be explained better from the famous case of S.S Lotus case (France vs Turkey, 1927). The facts of the case are that a French vessel S.S lotus and Turkish ship S.S Bozkurt collided and unfortunately the Turkish ship was damaged killing 8 Turkish Nationals on board. The remaining survivors of the Turkish ship were taken to Turkey onboard S.S lotus. The captain of the French ship along with the first watch officer were charged with manslaughter on arrival in Turkey and the latter was sentenced to imprisonment and fine. The matter was referred to Permanent Court of International Justice. When the Turkish government was strongly blaming the French government for knowingly causing the accident, the PCIJ made the decision in favour of Turkey. After this judgement, there was a huge criticism and when the United Nations was finally formed, certain changes were brought in the Flag State rule.


Life itself arose from the oceans. The United Nations have a specialized agency known as International Maritime Organization (IMO) to improve maritime safety and also to prevent pollution from ships.

[1] Chandan Kumar Pradhan-Law of the Sea: An Analysis of Contemporary Conflicts, Law of the Sea: An Analysis of Contemporary Conflicts (, visited on 17-07-2021 at 16:18hrs.

[2] IBID.

[3] IBID.

Aishwarya Says:

I have always been against Glorifying Over Work and therefore, in the year 2021, I have decided to launch this campaign “Balancing Life”and talk about this wrong practice, that we have been following since last few years. I will be talking to and interviewing around 1 lakh people in the coming 2021 and publish their interview regarding their opinion on glamourising Over Work.

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