Author: Ayushi Patidar, 3rd Year, B.A.LL.B (H), School of Law, Jagran Lakecity University, Bhopal.
The article has been written by the author while pursuing the internship programme with us.


The States with coastal boundaries have the right to use and to exploit the rich resources of the sea and to navigate the sea, have unopposed and unbothered access to it these privileges are provided by the maritime zones, by entrusting the States with an equitable right in the sea area, which has been predefined in the Law of The Sea Convention(UNCLOS). Maritime Zones are the area of the sea, over which a Nation has the right to exploit the resources of the sea. Maritime zones are usually calculated by projecting a baseline from the coastal boundary of the State, as the sea and ocean are subjected to tides and often is an arduous task.

What is Maritime Zone.

  • Maritime zones are divided into six different parts, as provided in UNCLOS.
  • Internal Water – these often fall inward from the baseline and can include any river or lake or any other water source, the Nation usually have sovereignty over the waters.
  • Territorial Sea- this zone is calculated as 12 nautical miles from the baseline of the coastal Nation , this area falls under the sovereign and jurisdictional power of the territorial state, it has full access and right to the ocean bed, sub soil and also the air space above, innocent passageways are barred in the internal and territorial sea area.
  • Contiguous Zone – 24 nautical miles from the baseline, State also have access to contiguous Zone over which it has the power to punish and withhold absconders of law and illegal intruders The State can exercise it jurisdiction over such area and also apply its customary law, the have full access to its ocean floor and sea and subsoil except the air space.
  •  Exclusive Economic Zones- 200 nautical miles from the baseline. A State can procure right over a EEZ if the state makes any discovery in the area , if it finds any resource ,the state has the right to exploit the resources and to use the sea for any scientific research or installing artificial island base, or marine based scientific research, as provided under Article 56 UNCLOS[1]. Article 74[2] provide for delineating the area of EEZ. Although not a signatory of the UNCLOS currently US has the most EEZ’s under its domain ranging about 3.4 million square nautical miles[3].
  •  Continental Shelf – 200 nautical miles from baseline, these are shallow ocean base found in oceans which are geologically closer to the continental crust, these are specifically governed by Article 83 of the UNCLOS.
  •  High Sea Area – High Sea area or deep ocean floor is described as area by the UNCLOS which is beyond the EEZ i.e. beyond 200 miles from the baseline of the state.

Historical Background

The League of Nation during 13 March to 12 April 1930 organised the first conference for the law of the sea, it was called as the Hague Conference for the Codification of International Law 1930 about 47 states participated in this conference, this could not garner much of the needed tutelage for the Territorial sea laws, albeit it did establish some legal matters related to innocent passageways and baselines. Albeit the first step to codify the various customary law was taken in the year 1958. In the year 1958, 86 states Participated in the first Geneva Conference, the pantheon did accept some of the conventions given for the time being: The convention on the Territorial sea and Contiguous Zones; the Convention on Continental Sea; The Convention on High Sea; The convention on Fishing and the Conversation of the living resources of the High Sea. Thereafter in 1960, the second Geneva Conference was held, the main objective was to determine the baseline and the breadth of the baseline, this, however, could not be accomplished.

International Law and Treaties

Formation of UNCLOS

The United Nations Conference on Law of The Sea was held in the year from 1973 to 1982 the conference continued for 9 years with majority of 160 Nation participated in this conference, the conference was also called the UNCLOS III after its predecessors , the conference yielded positive antidotes and about 167 states signed and adopted the United Nation Convention on the Law of the Sea , 4 states being US, Israel , Turkey and Venezuela refrained from signing this convention. The UNCLOS consists of seventeen parts and nine annexures, the parts have 320 Articles.

Objectives of the Act.

UNCLOS recognizes the sovereignty of the different state and, a legal order for the sea and ocean to establish international communication for peaceful use of the sea, equitable and effective utilization of sea resources, to promote conservation of living resources and to study protection and prevention of Marine environment. Contributing to the strengthening of peace, security, cooperation and friendly relations among all nations with the principles of justice and equal rights[4]. The International Maritime Organisation[5] is also a UN institution which rejigs the development of the maritime law, to provide a legal framework to maritime industries such as shipping. The other programs also include protection of the sea life and biodiversity and also to combat sea pollution and to promote sea research, with different institutions like the UNESCO Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission. The UN Sea Programmes etc.

Maritime Zone Disputes

Nations frequently come across dispute over the maritime zones, this happens usually in adjacent or opposite states, having adjacent coastlines, or overlapping coastlines, sometimes these disputes get protracted and usually last for over years. Maritime Disputes occur between different states and hence it becomes an international issue and requires special law and solution and hence UNCLOS is an important and effective law in dealing with maritime disputes, maritime fights are usually over access and to determine the jurisdiction over the sea area, the International law provides a various method with which a States can resolve and find a permanent solution to this problem. The UNCLOS provides for various methods with which the states can resolve these disputes; through Negotiations, agreement or bilateral agreement, the various committee are as per vigilant and sacrosanct in this matter mainly the International Tribunal for Law of the Sea, the International Court of Justice, an arbitral tribunal contested by the States, or a special Arbitral Tribunal as provided under Annex VIII of the UNCLOS. Often this gets delayed as the states does not come to a common mechanism to resolve the disputes does making it an arduous task.

India and Maritime Zone

India is a country which has vast access to sea and ports, India has about 2.37 million square area as EEZ[6] and it is very rich in its maritime heritage. India is a signatory of the UNCLOS and has legislated various laws to protect its maritime zone and has an uninterrupted access over it. After the 2nd conference at Geneva India implemented The Territorial Waters, Continental Shelf, Exclusive Economic Zones and Maritime Zones Act, 1976, the Act provides for a delineated area of India over its territorial sea, EEZ and continental shelf, it establishes its jurisdiction over the resources and sea, prescribing marine boundaries of India from its neighbours in these areas and also governs it. India also has the Maritime Zones of India Regulation of Fishing by Foreign Vessels Act, 1981 through which it controls all the fishing and other sea activities regarding Indian fishing Vessels, it also provides permission and licences to foreign ships and punishment to the foreign vessels if they are found trespassing over the area. India is also a signatory of the UNCLOS, and it has also indulged in various Maritime disputes between its neighbours.

Disputes between different Nation.

Maritime zones are a disputes phenomenon as lots of countries share boundaries and are adjacent to each other or at close proximity then zones often get overlapped although as per UNCLOS the baseline is demarcated at an equitable distance from the nation, still, disputes over sea area arise, due to various reasons. The US often blames India for having an excessive EEZ’s because at the time India has stopped the US Naval from military exercises in its EEZ’S[7] without permission. Along with India, the US binges China as well, of China claiming to have air space over its EEZ’S India has been in a maritime dispute with both Myanmar and Bangladesh.

Delimitation and territorial dispute Case

Qatar v. Bahrain[8]

The dispute between these two Nation was since a long time and Qatar on 8th July 1991 filed a case in ICJ over the maritime dispute. In the year 2001 after a decade long proceeding the ICJ determined the question and admissibility of the issue, that which of the two states have sovereignty over the Hawar Islands, the shaols of dibar and the Qit’ at Jaradah[9]. The court on 17th March 2001 ended the dispute over deciding the delimited maritime area of both these Nation’s by pointing that the Hawar island was the Part of Bahrain and it has sovereignty over it as was given by the judgement in the 1939 by the British government, the judgement was consented by both the states and hence it has legal effect, coming to the Janan Island the British government in a letter clearly mentioned that it was not part of the Hawar island hence the Janan and hard Janan were a part of Qatar.


Maritime zones are a fairly new concept and have evolved after the second world war, fight over sea area and resources have emerged between States and maritime law, its delineated area as given under UNCLOS is very important to maintain and harbour friendly relation between states and avoid dispute. The sea is an area which has often been referred as the “free man’s land”, all the humans have right over it but for better conservation and use of the resources of the sea maritime zones are established which give the States the peaceful and uninterrupted access over it. Maritime law is of utmost importance and hence the area of field should be given proper attention, many States, however, ignore these rights and hence at times disputes between State arises over these zones.


[1] Article 56, United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

[2] Article 74, United Nation’s Convention on the Law of the Sea.

[3]Chapter 2 Maritime Zones. Law of the Sea. The Fletcher School.

[4]United Nation Convention on the Law of the Sea.


[6]The Exclusive Economic Zones of the Seas around India. 24/Jan/2018 Geography and you.


[8] Qatar v. Bahrain [1994] ICJ Rep 112.

[9] Maritime Delimitation and Territorial Questions between Qatar and Bahrain (Qatar v. Bahrain). International Court of Justice.

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