Territorial Waters and the High Seas

October 5, 1955

Report Outline
Controversies Over Maritime Jurisdiction
State of International Law of the Sea
United Nations Efforts to Codify Rules
Special Focus

Controversies Over Maritime Jurisdiction

Where national jurisdiction ends and free passage under international law begins for ships on the sea and planes in the air is a question increasingly difficult to answer. The three-mile limit that traditionally bounded the territorial waters of maritime nations no longer applies with anything approaching universality. The Soviet Union and several other countries claim sole control of a marginal belt of 12 nautical miles. Four Latin American countries—Chile, Ecuador, Peru, and El Salvador—assert sovereignty over Pacific Ocean waters 200 miles to sea.

Efforts to extend the national domain into broad areas of the open sea have practical effects of great importance. Enforcement of a 12-mile limit in Soviet and Soviet-controlled territory along the Baltic Sea has forced Scandinavian fishing boats to restrict their operations to avoid straying into forbidden waters, Peru has taken foreign tuna clippers and whalers into custody well out in the Pacific and exacted heavy fines as the price of their release. In the Far North last June Soviet fighters attacked a U. S. Navy patrol plane over the Bering Strait, where American and Russian territorial waters come close to meeting.

On the other side of the world, Egypt has sought to establish control over all shipping passing from the Red Sea through the Strait of Tiran into the 100-mile-long Gulf of Aqaba. David Ben-Gurion, premier-designate of Israel, has threatened use of force to open the strait to Israeli shipping. While maintaining that the blockade is “against international law on freedom of the seas,” Ben-Gurion said, Sept. 25, that Israel was fully capable of dealing with the situation and would not submit its complaint to either the United Nations Security Council or the International Court of Justice.

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