UNCLOS is an acronym for the United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea. The convention is also sometimes referred to as the Law of the Sea Convention or the Law of the Sea treaty. UNCLOS, as a law of the sea came into operation and became effective from 16th November 1982.
The Law of the Sea Convention 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. The Convention, concluded in 1982, replaced four 1958 treaties. UNCLOS came into force in 1994, a year after Guyana became the 60th nation to sign the treaty. As of June 2016, 167 countries and the European Union have joined in the Convention. It is uncertain as to what extent the Convention codifies customary international law.
What is a Baseline?
A baseline is a legal construct:
A boundary line that determines where a State’s maritime sovereignty and jurisdiction begins and ends. In fact, baselines determine all areas of maritime jurisdiction. They create a demarcation between areas where a State has no rights and those where a State does enjoy rights. We should now note that the default baseline under UNCLOS is the normal baseline. According to Article 5 of UNCLOS, a normal baseline is drawn at the low-water line, as stated in official charts. Perhaps the easiest way to think of a normal baseline is as an “outline” of a State’s coast. Waters on the landward side of a baseline are considered a State’s internal waters, treated much in the way that land would be treated. However, in some situations, it is either impractical or uneconomical to draw a normal baseline. In such cases, straight baselines are used in lieu of normal baselines.
The limits of maritime zones recognized under international law are officially depicted on National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) nautical charts, and several are also (unofficially) displayed in the Marine Cadastre, which is a partnership effort between NOAA and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). NOAA, with the consensus of the interagency U.S. Baseline Committee, develops the limits of maritime zones using standards and concepts consistent with international and U.S. law, including
- Internal waters,
- The territorial sea,
- The contiguous zone, and
- The exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Internal waters :
All waters landward of the baselines (e.g. low-water line) and all harbours (Any law in force in the country, including the common law, shall also apply in its internal waters and the airspace above its internal waters. The right of innocent passage does generally not exist in the internal waters.)
Territorial Sea :
The sea within a distance of 12 nautical miles (~22 km) from the baselines (Any law in force in the country, including the common law, shall also apply in its territorial waters and the airspace above its territorial waters. The right of innocent passage shall exist in the territorial waters. In the territorial sea, submarines and other underwater vehicles are required to navigate on the surface and to show their flag.)
Contiguous zone :
The sea beyond the territorial waters but within a distance of twenty-four nautical miles (~44 km) from the baselines (Within its contiguous zone and the airspace above it, the country shall have the right to exercise all the powers which may be considered necessary to prevent contravention of any fiscal law or any customs, emigration, immigration or sanitary law and to make such contravention punishable.)
Maritime cultural zone :
The sea beyond the territorial waters but within a distance of twenty-four nautical miles (~44 km) from the baselines (Subject to any other law the country shall have, in respect of objects of an archaeological or historical nature found in the maritime cultural zone, the same rights and powers as it has in respect of its territorial waters.)
Exclusive economic zones (EEZ):
The sea beyond the territorial waters but within a distance of two hundred nautical miles (~367 km) from the baselines (Subject to any other law the country shall have, in respect of all natural resources in the exclusive economic zone, the same rights and powers as it has in respect of its territorial waters.