Concept : Law of the Sea


The international law governing the sea has undergone sea of change.

At first, during the middle ages, before exploration of sea by states and international trade by sea the law of the sea was not relevant.

Question regarding security of states arose during the fifteenth and sixteenth century, which led to countries advocate for exclusive jurisdiction over sea of the coastal states. However, the international trade that had already developed through sea routes meant that such claim of exclusive jurisdiction over sea would be opposed by landlocked countries.

Finally the balance was struck that led to emergence of international law of the sea which secured full sovereignty of coastal states over those waters proximate to their costs as well as secured freedom of the seas (for navigation and international trade).

Therefore, initially the sea was divided into territorial water that was proximate to the coastal state where the coastal state enjoyed exclusive jurisdiction and high sea, beyond the territorial water, where all states enjoyed freedom of sea.



There were additional question of exploitation of natural resources in the sea that was not clearly settled by the traditional law of the sea.

In the early years of the twentieth century ambitious plans were made to ‘codify’ much of international law of the sea. In 1956 the ILC produced a set of draft Articles on the law of the Sea which was considered in the first UN conference on the law of the Sea (UNCLOS I) held in Geneva in 1958. This conference produced four Geneva Conventions on the Law of the Sea.

  1. The Convention on the Territorial Sea and Contiguous Zone
  2. The Convention on the High Seas
  3. The Convention on the Continental Shelf
  4. The Convention on Fisheries and Conservation of the Living Resources of the High Seas

Second UN Conference on the Law of the Sea was held in 1960, which failed to improve the law of sea.

The third conference was held from 1974-82 and culminated into the adoption of the 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The Convention came into force in 16 November 1994 and the “Implementation Agreement” (additional changes to the Convention particularly Chapter XI of the UNCLOS agreed in July 1994) came into force in 1996.