The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea is considered the “constitution of the oceans”. It is also known as the Law of the Sea Convention or the Law of the Sea treaty. It was open for signature at Montego Bay, Jamaica, on 10 December 1982 but entered into force on 14 November 1994 and is presently binding for 154 States, as well as the European Community (as of 24 July 2008).
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:
1. 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.
2. 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.)
3. 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).
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.