territorial waters

territorial waters

territorial waters: see waters, territorial.
waters, territorial, all waters within the jurisdiction, recognized in international law, of a country. Certain waters by their situation are controlled by one nation; these include wholly enclosed inland seas, lakes, and rivers. Control of boundary lakes and rivers extends to the middle of the navigable channel, but agreements to share the use of such waters and of waters that flow through several countries (e.g., the Rhine, the Danube) are common. When waters are almost completely bordered by one country, but lie along an international navigation route (e.g., the Bosporus), treaties often make them available to all ships.

Since the 18th cent. coastal states have been held to have jurisdiction over unenclosed waters for 3 nautical mi (3.45 mi/5.55 km) from the low water line, a measure originally derived from the distance of a cannon shot. In the case of a bay up to 24 mi (39 km) wide, a line drawn from one enclosing point to the other marked the outer limit of territorial jurisdiction. A broader zone of jurisdiction to combat smuggling has long been claimed by various states, as by the United States during prohibition.

Merchant ships of all flags have the right of "innocent passage" in a nation's territorial waters; the rights of nonbelligerent foreign warships in this zone, and the extent of the jurisdiction of the coastal nation's courts over ships passing through and incidents in the zone, have long been matters of debate. Fishing and mineral extraction within the zone are entirely within the control of the coastal nation. In the 20th cent., coastal nations progressively widened their claims over offshore waters, especially in the face of competition from foreign fishing fleets and in anticipation of rich oil, gas, and mineral finds on the continental shelf. The UN-sponsored Law of the Sea Treaty, which went into effect in 1994, codified territorial waters of 12 nautical mi (13.8 mi/22.2 km) and an exclusive economic zone of 200 nautical mi (230 mi/370 km). In 1999, U.S. agencies were empowered by presidential proclamation to enforce American law up to 24 miles (39 km) offshore, doubling the previous limit.

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 also 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 Indonesia or the Philippines.

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 Sidra where Libya has claimed the entire gulf as its territorial waters and the U.S. has twice violently enforced freedom of navigation rights (Gulf of Sidra incident (1981), Gulf of Sidra incident (1989)).

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 States invoked a contiguous zone on 24 September 1999.

Exclusive economic zone

An exclusive economic zone extends for 200 nautical miles (370 km) beyond the baselines of the territorial sea, thus it includes the territorial sea and its 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 regulate or prohibit passage or loitering above, on, or under the surface of the sea, whether innocent or belligerent, 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

The continental shelf of a coastal nation extends out to its continental margin, but at least from the baselines of its territorial sea. The continental margin is defined by a series of points not more than 60 nautical miles (111 km) apart where the thickness of sedimentary rocks is at least one per cent of the height of the continental shelf above the foot of the continental slope, but not more than inshore from it. The foot of the continental slope is where the maximum change in the gradient of the seabed occurs. The continental margin cannot exceed 350 nautical miles (648 km) beyond the baselines of the territorial sea or 100 nautical miles (185 km) beyond the 2,500-metre depth, unless "natural components of the continental margin, such as its plateaux, rises, caps, banks and spurs" but not submarine ridges are farther out. The 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. Ireland has become one of the first countries to define its continental shelf in accordance with the UN convention.


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.

From the eighteenth century until the mid twentieth century, the territorial waters of the British Empire, the United States, France and many other nations were three nautical miles (6 km) 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, Iceland claimed two nautical miles (3.7 km), Norway claimed four nautical miles (7.4 km), and Spain 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 Kingdom extended its territorial waters from three to twelve nautical miles (22 km) in 1987.

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.

Territorial sea claims

  • None: Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro, neither of which are landlocked countries.
  • 3 nautical miles (5.6 km): 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, 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, 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.


See also

External links

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