How do international laws regulate the seas?

Law of the sea: how international laws regulate the sea


03/26/2024 08:17

On land, laws are commonplace, but what is the situation on the open ocean and lawless waters?

Whenever it comes to laws, every state strives to govern its territory. This is understandable when it comes to land. Looking at a map, the borders clearly show where one state ends and another begins.

But what about coastal states that either border the sea or are completely surrounded by it? Where is the border of their jurisdiction? Does this mean that there are no laws in the sea?

Laws of the seas In fact, there is no lawlessness on the high seas. According to international law, each coast has certain boundaries that extend beyond the coastline.

In the last century there have been attempts to develop an international “law of the sea” under the auspices of the United Nations. The results of the third and final conference on the Law of the Sea, held in 1982, were successful, and by 2017, more than 160 countries had signed the agreement.

However, not all countries, including the United States and others with long coastlines such as Colombia, Venezuela and Turkey, have signed the agreement.

Essentially, the law of the sea determines that each coast controls its own coastal waters up to 19.3 kilometers from shore, known as the “12 mile limit.”

In this zone, the laws of the corresponding coast apply, allowing construction, exploration and extraction of natural resources, as well as control of sea and air traffic, as on land.

In addition, the coasts are entitled to an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) covering the waters and seabed within a radius of 322 kilometers. The extent of the EEZ may be limited by neighboring zones of other countries, and in such cases the area of ​​overlap is usually divided equally between them.

Countries that control the EEZ also have the right to exploit marine life and mineral resources in the zone. However, they cannot prevent ships, aircraft and other vehicles from other countries from passing through the EEZ.

Legal Issues at Sea However, outside these boundaries, legal issues are resolved differently. In these areas, ships and aircraft of any country have the right to free movement, flight, fishing and mining.

If crimes occur in these areas, the laws of the country to which the vessel or structure that committed the crime belongs apply.

Issues related to maritime jurisdiction can be complex and cause headaches for investigators and government officials. For example, if a murder by a citizen of another country occurs on a cruise ship owned by one country in international waters, and the ship then enters the territorial waters of a third country, questions arise about which countries’ laws apply.

Sea pirates When it comes to international crimes such as piracy, human trafficking and crimes against humanity, there are several approaches to the issue of authority and judicial jurisdiction. One approach is the concept of universal jurisdiction.

According to this concept, any country or international organization can claim the right to prosecute such crimes, from investigation to trial in its national or international courts.

It should be noted that recognition of the competence of the authorities of other countries and international courts may be a subject of disagreement. Sometimes governments of one country may refuse to recognize the jurisdiction or legality of another country’s actions, especially if international laws and standards have not been accepted by all states.

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