There are numerous unresolved international legal problems which may affect the exploitation and investigation of the ocean. Most of the uncertainties probably will not be resolved for several years. There will be increasing international discussion and negotiation regarding the law of the sea in the future. United States industry and government should continue to analyze the issues involved and begin to formulate positions on some of the key issues. The recent report of the Commission on Marine Science, Engineering and Resources is a significant part of this process.

A number of different legal frameworks govern the use of different areas of the world's oceans. For the purposes of this discussion, the following frameworks will be distinguished:

  1. internal and territorial waters,

  2. continental shelf,

  3. contiguous zone, and

  4. high seas, including the bed and subsoil.

These distinctions are significant for the exploitation of mineral and living resources of the sea, as well as for the conduct of scientific investigations at sea. [1]

Internal Waters and Territorial Sea

The coastal nation generally has full control over the exploitation of mineral and living resources, and the conduct of scientific investigation, within its internal waters and territorial sea, including the resources of the seabed and subsoil of these areas. Except as may be limited by treaty, under international law each coastal nation may establish or enforce its rules of law in its internal waters and territorial sea. The coastal nation may exclude anyone from exploring or exploiting any resources in these waters. These claims of the coastal nation are recognized even with regard to living resources which usually live in the high seas, so long as such resources are found in the territorial waters.

The International Convention on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone provides that the sovereignty of the coastal nation extends beyond its land territory and its internal waters "to a belt of sea adjacent to its coast, described as its territorial sea" and "to the air space over the territorial sea as well as to its bed and subsoil." [2] The Convention does not specify the breadth of the territorial sea, and national claims vary from three nautical miles to 200 miles or more. The position of the United States has been that no claim to a width greater than three miles has received sufficient acceptance to be a rule of international law. However, there are some indications that the United States may be moving toward a 12-mile limitation for purposes of the territorial sea. This would generally be in accord with the majority of nations which agrees that the width of the territorial sea is no greater than 12 miles. [3]

The coastal nation's "internal waters" consist of the waters "on the landward side of the baseline of the territorial sea," as well as the rivers, lakes, and canals within its land area. [4]

The "normal baseline for measuring the breadth of the territorial sea is the low water line along the coast."

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