State Maritime Boundaries

Authored by: Chris M. Carleton

Routledge Handbook of Ocean Resources and Management

Print publication date:  October  2015
Online publication date:  October  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415531757
eBook ISBN: 9780203115398
Adobe ISBN: 9781136294822


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Ever since mankind formed states there was a potential for the state to extend seaward if a coastline existed. However, in the early civilizations the sea was regarded as free to anybody who wished to use it. This concept began to change following the 1494 Bull of Pope Alexander VI. He declared that all the oceans to the east of a meridian of longitude drawn through Brazil were Portuguese, while those to the west remained Spanish. This attempt at controlling the seas by two early colonial powers was challenged in a treatise by Grotius entitled Mare liberum. Grotius stated that there was a right of the freedom of the seas to enable a right of trade and was published as a direct challenge to the Portuguese claim to the eastern seas, an area that the Netherlands had begun to colonise. The subsequent debate between the freedoms of the ocean and the right of a coastal state to claim jurisdiction over sea areas adjacent to its coast is well documented by Professor O’Connell (O’Connell, 1982). The freedom of navigation has been broadly sustained beyond a coastal state’s territorial sea, and even within the territorial sea a right of innocent passage has been maintained for all vessels in international law. The requirement for maritime boundaries between states started very modestly. Having established that a state had a right to claim a band of sea off its coastline by the end of the nineteenth century, customary international law developed a consensus that this band of sea should generally be 3 nautical miles (nm) by the first quarter of the twentieth century. This in turn established a requirement for adjacent coastal states to extend their land boundaries out to this 3 nm limit. This modest extension was often achieved by simply extending the final leg of the land boundary out to 3 nautical miles beyond the low-water line in the same direction as the last leg of the land boundary. This was achieved largely by bilateral agreement between states.

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