International waters

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"Mare liberum" redirects here. For the 1609 book by Hugo Grotius, see Mare Liberum.
Areas outside of exclusive economic zones in dark blue.


The terms international waters or trans-boundary waters apply where any of the following types of bodies of water (or their drainage basins) transcend international boundaries: oceans, large marine ecosystems, enclosed or semi-enclosed regional seas and estuaries, rivers, lakes, groundwater systems (aquifers), and wetlands.[1]

Oceans, seas, and waters outside of national jurisdiction are also referred to as the high seas or, in Latin, mare liberum (meaning free seas).

Ships sailing the high seas are generally under the jurisdiction of the flag state (if there is one);[2] however, when a ship is involved in certain criminal acts, such as piracy,[3] any nation can exercise jurisdiction under the doctrine of universal jurisdiction. International waters can be contrasted with internal waters, territorial waters and exclusive economic zones.

International waterways[edit]

Komárno (Slovakia) - an inland port on the Danube River which is an important international waterway.

Several international treaties have established freedom of navigation on semi-enclosed seas.

Other international treaties have opened up rivers, which are not traditionally international waterways.

Disputes over international waters[edit]

Atlantic ocean - the main zone of sea transport in 15th-20th centuries.

Current unresolved disputes over whether particular waters are "International waters" include:

In addition to formal disputes, the government of Somalia exercises little control de facto over Somali territorial waters. Consequently, much piracy, illegal dumping of waste and fishing without permit has occurred.

International waters agreements[edit]

Sea areas in international rights, seen from a top-down perspective.[citation needed]
Limits of national jurisdiction and sovereignty
Outer space (including Earth orbits; the Moon and other celestial bodies, and their orbits)
national airspace territorial waters airspace contiguous zone airspace[citation needed] international airspace
land territory surface internal waters surface territorial waters surface contiguous zone surface Exclusive Economic Zone surface international waters surface
internal waters territorial waters Exclusive Economic Zone international waters
land territory underground Continental Shelf surface extended continental shelf surface international seabed surface
Continental Shelf underground extended continental shelf underground international seabed underground
  full national jurisdiction and sovereignty
  restrictions on national jurisdiction and sovereignty
  international jurisdiction per common heritage of mankind

Global agreements[edit]

Regional agreements[edit]

Map showing the parties of the Barcelona Convention.

At least ten conventions are included within the Regional Seas Program of UNEP,[12] including:

  1. the Atlantic Coast of West and Central Africa;[13]
  2. the North-East Pacific (Antigua Convention);
  3. the Mediterranean (Barcelona Convention);
  4. the wider Caribbean (Cartagena Convention);
  5. the South-East Pacific;[14]
  6. the South Pacific (Nouméa Convention);
  7. the East African seaboard;[15]
  8. the Kuwait region (Kuwait Convention);
  9. the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden (Jeddah Convention).

Addressing regional freshwater issues is the 1992 Helsinki Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (UNECE/Helsinki Water Convention)[16]

Water body-specific agreements[edit]

International waters institutions[edit]

Freshwater institutions[edit]

Marine institutions[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ International Waters, United Nations Development Programme
  2. ^ UNCLOS article 92(1)
  3. ^ UNCLOS article 105
  4. ^ "International Freshwater Treaties Database". Transboundarywaters.orst.edu. Retrieved 2011-11-08. 
  5. ^ Yearbook of International Cooperation on Environment and Development
    Marine Environment[dead link]
    Marine Living Resources[dead link]
    Freshwater Resources[dead link]
  6. ^ London Convention 1972[dead link]
  7. ^ "United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea". Un.org. Retrieved 2011-11-08. 
  8. ^ "CIW" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-11-08. 
  9. ^ "Bellagio Draft" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-11-08. 
  10. ^ "Text of Ramsar Convention and other key original documents". Ramsar.org. Retrieved 2011-11-08. 
  11. ^ Text of the Convention on Biological Diversity especially Articles 12-13, as related to transboundary aquatic ecosystems
  12. ^ "Regional Seas Program". Unep.org. Retrieved 2011-11-08. 
  13. ^ "Convention for Co-operation in the Protection and Development of the Marine and Coastal Environment of the West and Central African Region; and Protocol (1981)". Sedac.ciesin.org. Retrieved 2011-11-08. 
  14. ^ Lima Convention, 1986)
  15. ^ Nairobi Convention, 1985);
  16. ^ "Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes". Unece.org. Retrieved 2011-11-08. 
  17. ^ "Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area". Helcom.fi. Retrieved 2011-11-08. 
  18. ^ Bucharest Convention, 1992), see also the Black Sea Commission
  19. ^ Framework Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Caspian Sea, 2003
  20. ^ Convention for the Sustainable Management of Lake Tanganyika, 2003

External links[edit]