Innocent passage

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Innocent passage is a concept in the law of the sea that allows for a vessel to pass through the archipelagic and territorial waters of another state, subject to certain restrictions. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea Article 19 defines innocent passage as:[1]

  1. Passage is innocent so long as it is not prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal State. Such passage shall take place in conformity with this Convention and with other rules of international law.
  2. Passage of a foreign ship shall be considered to be prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal State if in the territorial sea it engages in any of the following activities:
    (a) any threat or use of force against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of the coastal State, or in any other manner in violation of the principles of international law embodied in the Charter of the United Nations;
    (b) any exercise or practice with weapons of any kind;
    (c) any act aimed at collecting information to the prejudice of the defence or security of the coastal State;
    (d) any act of propaganda aimed at affecting the defence or security of the coastal State;
    (e) the launching, landing or taking on board of any aircraft;
    (f) the launching, landing or taking on board of any military device;
    (g) the loading or unloading of any commodity, currency or person contrary to the customs, fiscal, immigration or sanitary laws and regulations of the coastal State;
    (h) any act of wilful and serious pollution contrary to this Convention;
    (I) any fishing activities;
    (j) the carrying out of research or survey activities;
    (k) any act aimed at interfering with any systems of communication or any other facilities or installations of the coastal State;
    (l) any other activity not having a direct bearing on passage.

Any underwater vehicle, including submarines, shall surface and show its flag during the innocent passage (but not during the transit passage).[2]

Innocent passage concedes the coastal country's territorial sea claim, unlike freedom of navigation, which directly contests it.[3][4]


Initially, the right of innocent passage in the current sense began to take shape in the 1840s (as a customary rule) with the development of world trade and the emergence of steamships navigation, for which it was economically significant to use the shortest possible route often through the coastal waters of a foreign state.[5] The law was codified in the 1958 Geneva Convention and affirmed in the 1982 UNCLOS.[6][7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "UN CLS, Part II".
  2. ^ The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy (2017). The Law of the Sea Primer (PDF). Tufts College. pp. 20, 23.
  3. ^ Bosco, Joseph A. "Are Freedom of Navigation Operations and Innocent Passage Really the Same?". The Diplomat. Retrieved 2016-03-13.
  4. ^ "U.S. destroyer challenges China's claims in South China Sea". Reuters. 2017-08-10. Retrieved 2017-08-10.
  5. ^ Bugajski, Dariusz R. (2021). Navigational rights and freedoms in the international law and practice. Akademia Marynarki Wojennej. p. 89. ISBN 978-83-961549-1-0. OCLC 1267382284.
  6. ^ Rothwell, Donald R.; Bateman, W. S. Walter Samuel Grono (2000-11-14). Navigational Rights and Freedoms, and the New Law of the Sea. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. ISBN 978-90-411-1499-0.
  7. ^ Dupuy, René Jean; Vignes, Daniel (1991-10-16). A handbook on the new law of the sea. 2 (1991). Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. ISBN 978-0-7923-1063-1.

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