Author: Kavya Goyal, Prestige Institute Of Management


The Ocean is always an important part of our planet earth. Life begins from the ocean itself.  The Ocean is vast as it covers 140 million square miles, around 72% of the Earth’s surface. It is the source of food for plants, animals and humans. Moreover, it is also used for the commercial trade, transport, adventure and discovery. Because of its unmeasurable usage, humans have  stared using it for their self interest, profit and consumption purposes. In result of it, United Nations conducted 3 conventions to prevent the Pureness of ocean from the mankind. Therefore, the ocean has been divided and 12 nautical miles from the land territory is given to the countries for their usage.


The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is an international agreement between the countries which took place between 1973-1982. It is also pronounced as Law of the Sea Convention or the Law of the Sea Treaty. It has replaced the quad-treaty 1958 Convention on the High Seas. It has come into force in 1994 with 60 Nations signed the treaty and now 167 countries and the European Union have joined in the convention. It defines the right and duties of the nations with respect to their use of the oceans by enforcing guidelines for businesses, environment and the management of the marine natural resources.


UNCLOS has replaced the older concept of 17th century i.e. “freedom of the seas”. According to this concept, the countries used to have the right to specified belt of water extending from 3 nautical miles from the nation’s coastlines. In the 20th century, the growing concern over the toll taken on coastal fish sticks by long distance fishing fleets and over threat of pollution and wastes from transport ships and oil tankers carrying noxious cargoes that plied sea routes across the earth. The hazardous pollution was present, threatening coastal resorts and all form of ocean life. The first time in 1945, President Harry S Truman challenged the freedom of the seas doctrine by extending United States jurisdiction over all natural resources on that nation’s continental shelf – oil, gas, minerals, etc.

By following his steps, other nations quickly extended their areas between 1946-50. The nations were, Argentina, Chile, Peru and Ecuador extended from 3 to 200 nautical miles. Soon after second World War, other countries like Egypt, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Venezuela, and some Eastern European Countries claimed to a 12 nautical miles jurisdiction. Slowly, other nations also started extending their territorial jurisdiction of the sea. By the 1967, 25 nations were following the traditional law i.e. of 3 nautical miles, while other 66 countries covered 12 nautical miles from their land territory and 8 countries set their territory upto 200 nautical miles. Now, in the year 2008, only two countries Viz., Jordan and Palau, still use the 3 nautical miles limit.


On 1st November, 1967, Arvind Pardo, the Malta’s Ambassador to the United Nations, asked the nations of the world to look around the world and save the ocean on the earth. In a speech to the United Nations General Assembly, he gave a speech, and he enlightened that spreading to the oceans, of the pollution that was poisoning the seas, of the conflicting legal claims and their implications for a stable order and of the rich potential that lay on the seabed. After 15 years of his speech, a committee came in front by the name of United Nations Seabed Committee, it came with some rules Viz., signing of the treaty banning nuclear weapons on the Ocean floor, the adoption of the declaration by the General Assembly that all resources of the seabed beyond the limits of the National jurisdiction are the common heritage of mankind and the convening of the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment.

The conference took place in 1973 at New York. After 9 years, in 1982 the constitution for the seas was adopted. On 10th December 1982 in Montego Bay, Jamaica, the convention was open for the signature. The convention came into force with 308 articles on 16th November 1994. The Convention has resolved several important issues related to Ocean uses and it’s sovereignty and many more such as:

  • It has created territorial jurisdiction up to 12 nautical miles
  • It has established freedom of navigation rights as well as freedom to lay submarine cables and pipelines
  • The exclusive economic Zone up to 200 miles was set
  • Certain rules were setup for extending up to 350 nautical miles
  • It has created the International Seabed Authority
  • It is also set up UN commission for resolving the conflicts.


Ocean and the Law of the Sea – https://www.un.org/en/sections/issues-depth/oceans-and-law-sea/

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (A Historical Perspective) – https://www.un.org/Depts/los/convention_agreements/convention_historical_perspective.htm


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