What Laws Apply In International Waters?


In October 2015, Russian ships and submarines
operated near undersea data cables, sparking fears that Russia may intentionally cut or
wiretap the world’s communication lines. Data cables are protected by international
law, but what happens out on the high seas is a legally complicated jurisdiction. So
we wanted to know, what are international waters, and who exactly is in charge? Well, simply put, international waters are
bodies of water that are outside a country’s territorial waters, which extend 12 nautical
miles from its coast. Within territorial waters, nations have full sovereignty, both above
and below the surface. There is also an “exclusive economic zone” that extends 200 nautical
miles out from the shore. But the EEZ only applies sovereign rights to what lies below
the surface, like oil or minerals. After 12 miles, anyone can sail through a country’s
exclusive economic zone, but they can’t drill for oil or fish. In fact, the freedom to navigate international
waters is one of several freedoms guaranteed by the United Nations Convention on the Law
of the Sea. All countries are allowed to fly over, lay cables, build islands, fish, and
perform scientific research. Of course, that’s not to say that you can do ANYTHING in international
waters. First and foremost, whatever is being done on the high seas falls under the jurisdiction
of the country the ship is registered in. But what if the country in question is unable,
or refuses to prosecute criminal activity, such as Somalian piracy? Well, that’s when
the concept of “universal jurisdiction” applies. “Universal jurisdiction” allows for any
country to prosecute a criminal regardless of their nationality or where the crime was
committed. Although usually this concept is used for crimes against humanity, like genocide,
it is useful in international waters because otherwise NOBODY could claim jurisdiction.
Recent effort against Somalian piracy have been primarily led by the United States, but
also involve China, Russia, France, and the UK, as well as the EU and NATO. In fact, this
policing of international waters marks the first time the UN Security Council has worked
on the same side since World War II. But what counts as international waters isn’t
always clear cut. The nautical area surrounding the Arctic as well as Antarctica are disputed,
as multiple countries have claimed sovereignty over the land itself. But perhaps the most
tense conflict is in the South China Sea. China lays claim over a number of islands,
and by proxy also polices the surrounding waters. But neighboring states like Taiwan,
Vietnam and the Philippines say that China’s claims overlap on their own territory. Meanwhile,
international countries like the United States maintain that a large portion of the South
China Sea constitutes international waters. The US has even sent ships into what China
claims as its own territory. This dispute is considered one of the most volatile in
the Asian region. International waters are incredibly important
for trade and communication, and are generally protected against unlawful activity. Although
it may seem like you can just take a boat 12 miles off the coast and do whatever you
want, that is far from the case. Historically countries have claimed dominion over all the
world’s oceans, but today, the high seas are free for all. Despite how much water there is in the world,
it is actually a fiercely fought over resource. To learn which countries are fighting over
water, check out this video. Thanks for watching TestTube News, make sure to like
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