Tuesday, February 13, 2018, 09:12 (GMT+7)
International waters and the freedom of the high seas

According to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 1982 (hereafter the UNCLOS 1982), the World Ocean  is divided into 2 parts, namely territorial waters under sovereignty and sovereign right of coastal states; and international waters and seabed. International waters (also known as the high seas) are immense, including all the waters outside coastal states’ 3-nmi territorial waters. Due to the inception of exclusive economic zone (EEZ) (200 nautical miles or nmi) under coastal countries’ sovereignty, the high seas have been narrowed and outside the EEZ. The UNCLOS 1982 also stipulated that “the high seas” are all the seas which are not within the EEZ, territorial waters and internal waters of a country or in the waters and archipelago of an archipelagic country. In line with that, Vietnam’s Law of the Sea specified that “international waters” cover all parts of the sea beyond the EEZ of Vietnam and other states, and not including the seabed and the subsoil thereof. So, the terms “international waters” (according to Vietnam’s Law of the Sea) or the “High Seas” (according to the UNCLOS 1982) match each other and are only applied to the water layers above the seabed.

International waters play an important role in activities of every country. Thus, to ensure the benefits of all countries, the UNCLOS 1982 stipulated the legal regime of the seas in a detailed, specific manner. Accordingly, coastal and land-locked States are all allowed to use the international waters, which is called the freedom of the high seas. Freedom of the high seas was specified in the Article 87 of the UNCLOS 1982, including: freedom of navigation; freedom of overflight; freedom to lay submarine cables and pipelines, subject to conditions related to continental shelf; freedom to construct artificial islands and other installations permitted under international law, subject to the conditions on continental shelf; freedom of fishing, subject to the conditions concerning preservation and management of resources of the high seas; freedom of scientific research, subject to conditions regarding continental shelf, marine scientific research and  regime of islands. When exercising these freedoms, a State must respect the benefits of the others and comply with regulations on the rights recognized by the UNCLOS 1982 related to operations in the high seas, such as protection of marine environment, preservation of marine resources, safety of navigation, cooperation on combating piracy, and so on. The UNCLOS 1982 also specified that the high seas are used for the peaceful purposes and that no country shall claim sovereignty over some area of the high seas.

Promoting and maintaining the freedom of the high seas represent an indispensable demand of both coastal and land-locked countries for the sake of national development, which is their official right. However, to ensure that freedom of the high seas is exercised equally, every country should strictly observe regulations set by the UNCLOS 1982 towards a sustainable, peaceful, and increasingly prosperous world.

Nguyen Van Su

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