• Legis Scriptor

Law of Sea : An Overview

Authored by : Pallavi Barwar


Law of sea, Sea, Conveniton, Navigation, Costal states, Contiguous zone.


Sea is a water body that plays a very significant role in human trade and commerce and also it is a huge reservoir of natural resources. It's the right of every state and every nation to access these natural resources from oceans. States in their greediness try to illegally possess someone else's land or people commit unlawful activities in the seas that violate the principles and disturb the smooth relations between the nations. The law to govern the sea and oceans of the world was established with the common consent of some countries and the UN to maintain international peace and security in international water bodies. The key objective of this research one is to analyse the importance of law of sea in the current scenario and its special qualities.

"The historic function of the law of the sea has long been recognized as that of protecting and balancing the common interest inclusive and exclusive of all people in the use and enjoyment of the oceans, while rejecting all egocentric assertion of special interests in contravention of general community interest."[1]

- McDougal and Burke


Oceans and Seas of the have always an important role, firstly by acting as a means of communication, trade and travel and secondly, as an immense reservoir of both flora and fauna. In the international scenario disputes often arises among various coastal states or nations regarding possession of their maritime boundary by other nations, exploitation of minerals or natural resources, or unlawful involvement of crimes in the territorial boundary of another state. Therefore, to handle all these problems law of the sea was formulated. The law emerged in the 17th century with the common consent of various action and UN Conventions. Law of the sea is considered to be the part of public international law to protect the oceans and seas from the ones who disturb peace and security either by unlawful activities like piracy and smuggling or by the destructive acts of the states. However, this law is different from private maritime law as this law deals with people.


From the 17th century when the sea began to be used as a means of commerce and war, many different scholars raised the issue that who could use it and who could rule over it. This issue diminishes the freedom of the sea and the sea has taken many forms in different states like limiting the right of jurisdiction on oceans to specific belts and water extending from coastal lines. The father of law of sea Hugo Grotius once said that seas were free for all nations but belong to none of them. However, in the 19th century, the idea of Free states has taken many forms but finally, Britain formulates a committee that favoured free navigation and allowed to conduct free trade and commerce across the world oceans. Now, the law of the sea has undergone continuous development starting from 17 to 19th century and still going on. Therefore it is known as the oldest as well as the newest bodies of International Law.

Formulation of law of sea

It will be wrong if we presume that this law is formulated at one place rather is the mixture of different international laws and treaties like:

I. Geneva convention on territorial water

The first UN convention of 1958 in Geneva which focused on

· Convention on the territorial sea and contiguous zone

· Convention on high seas

· Convention on fishing and conservation of living resources.

· Convention on continental shelf.

II. UN Convention of 1982:[2]

The third united nation conference on the law of seas that took place from 1973 to 1982 resulted to the global agreement on law of seas convention.

This convention is also called the constitution of oceans 'which represents the significant development in international law with regards to the rule of high seas. Along with this in 1982 convention has replaced the 4 conventions of 1958, 320 articles, and 9 annexure.

Salient Features

1. The limit for territorial water is 12nm.

2. For international navigation, transit passage is allowed for ships and aircraft.

3. Costal sates have been provided the limit unto 200nm to explore and utilise their natural resources

4. The area of the oceans beyond the national jurisdiction is known as Common heritage of mankind.

5. Land lock states can enjoy the right to and from the sea.

Internal Tribunals

In 1994 when the UN entered the main function the main focus was given to the establishment of international tribunals. Under this intergovernmental orrganisation21 judges were elected in August 1996 following equitable geographical distribution. This tribunal is located in Germany and consists of 21 members who are elected with high integrity and fairness. The parties to the UN Convention of 1982 have complete right to participate in theses tribunals.[3]


This law has always remain a matter of great concern and the 1982 convention ahs provided a path to govern and protect the right of nations in respect of international water bodies. Oceans give birth to lives. The world has made so much advancement and now there are roads, rivers and tributaries that have connecting one area to the another but still a good percentage of the world population is residing in no more than 1km of the area from the sea and the sea is their only source of income so it is important to protect the rights of these people and prevent them from any kind of danger that can arise from the costal borders.

References :




· S.K. Kapoor, “International Law & Human Rights”

FootNotes : [1] Kapoor, S. K. (Ed.). (2016). Law of Sea. In International Law and Human Rights (1st ed., p. 256). Central Law Agency.

[2] Ahmed, A. (2017). International Law of the Sea: An Overlook and Case Study. Law of Sea,24. [3] Ahmed, A. (2017). International Law of the Sea: An Overlook and Case Study. Law of Sea, 24.