With China constructing artificial islands in the South China Sea to claim the water body, has made Maritime Security a new talk of the town.
But wait a minute….. can countries own an ocean or a sea just like land?
Yes, they can! But only a part of it. Every coastal country has territorial waters which extend up to 12 nautical miles or 22.22 Km from the countries coastline.
For simplifcation, you can consider this part of the ocean or sea as an extended landmass i.e. the country’s entire judicial system more or less works the same as it would work in its capital city. In this region, the country can freely carry out any exploration and fishing activities. You will be further fascinated to know that the country not only controls the sea/ocean in the region but also the airspace above and also the seabed. So just like you can’t walk into your neighbouring country on land you cannot (or it is not advisable) trespass into a country’s territorial waters without proper documentation.
Exclusive Economic Zone or the EEZ extends up to 200 nautical miles or 370.4km from a country’s coast.
Yes, I know what an EEZ is. In an EEZ the country has the Sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring, exploiting, conserving and managing natural resources. But you said the same thing for territorial waters also….. Now I am confused……..
Let me put it this way, both these regions i.e EEZ and Territorial Waters (TWs) are used for similar purposes but what differs is the way these regions are governed. For example, you cannot trespass TWs and any submerged vessels/submarines are required to pass through TWs in surfaced condition with their flags up. Whereas there are no such rules in EEZ. A submarine can be positioned in EEZ of a foreign country without the need to disclose its whereabouts. A country cannot claim the airspace above the EEZ as it does above the TWs.
Beyond the EEZ lies the High Seas which one can consider it as No Mans Land. The natural resources found in the high seas are to be shared by all countries. The high seas are governed by the Convention on the High Seas or the international laws.