High Seas Law
World ▶ High Seas Law
Law of the Seas
Laws governing the high seas.
SECTION 1 - GENERAL PROVISIONS
Article 86 - Application of the provisions of this Part
- The provisions of this Part apply to all parts of the sea that are not included in the exclusive economic zone, in the territorial sea or in the internal waters of a State, or in the archipelagic waters of an archipelagic State. This article does not entail any abridgement of the freedoms enjoyed by all States in the exclusive economic zone in accordance with article 58.
Article 87 - Freedom of the high seas
- The high seas are open to all States, whether coastal or land-locked. Freedom of the high seas is exercised under the conditions laid down by this Convention and by other rules of international law. It comprises, inter alia, both for coastal and land-locked States:
- freedom of navigation;
- freedom of overflight;
- freedom to lay submarine cables and pipelines, subject to Part VI;
- freedom to construct artificial islands and other installations permitted under international law, subject to Part VI;
- freedom of fishing, subject to the conditions laid down in section 2;
- freedom of scientific research, subject to Parts VI and XIII.
- These freedoms shall be exercised by all States with due regard for the interests of other States in their exercise of the freedom of the high seas, and also with due regard for the rights under this Convention with respect to activities in the Area.
Article 88 - Reservation of the high seas for peaceful purposes
- The high seas shall be reserved for peaceful purposes.
Article 89 - Invalidity of claims of sovereignty over the high seas
- No State may validly purport to subject any part of the high seas to its sovereignty.
- Every State, whether coastal or land-locked, has the right to sail ships flying its flag on the high seas.
Article 91 - Nationality of ships
- Every State shall fix the conditions for the grant of its nationality to ships, for the registration of ships in its territory, and for the right to fly its flag. Ships have the nationality of the State whose flag they are entitled to fly. There must exist a genuine link between the State and the ship.
- Every State shall issue to ships to which it has granted the right to fly its flag documents to that effect.
Article 92 - Status of ships
- Ships shall sail under the flag of one State only and, save in exceptional cases expressly provided for in international treaties or in this Convention, shall be subject to its exclusive jurisdiction on the high seas. A ship may not change its flag during a voyage or while in a port of call, save in the case of a real transfer of ownership or change of registry.
- A ship which sails under the flags of two or more States, using them according to convenience, may not claim any of the nationalities in question with respect to any other State, and may be assimilated to a ship without nationality.
Article 93 - Ships flying the flag of the United Nations, its specialized agencies and the International Atomic Energy Agency
- The preceding articles do not prejudice the question of ships employed on the official service of the United Nations, its specialized agencies or the International Atomic Energy Agency, flying the flag of the organization.
Article 94 - Duties of the flag State
- Every State shall effectively exercise its jurisdiction and control in administrative, technical and social matters over ships flying its flag.
- In particular every State shall:
- maintain a register of ships containing the names and particulars of ships flying its flag, except those which are excluded from generally accepted international regulations on account of their small size; and
- assume jurisdiction under its internal law over each ship flying its flag and its master, officers and crew in respect of administrative, technical and social matters concerning the ship.
- Every State shall take such measures for ships flying its flag as are necessary to ensure safety at sea with regard, inter alia, to:
- the construction, equipment and seaworthiness of ships;
- the manning of ships, labour conditions and the training of crews, taking into account the applicable international instruments;
- the use of signals, the maintenance of communications and the prevention of collisions.
- Such measures shall include those necessary to ensure:
- that each ship, before registration and thereafter at appropriate intervals, is surveyed by a qualified surveyor of ships, and has on board such charts, nautical publications and navigational equipment and instruments as are appropriate for the safe navigation of the ship;
- that each ship is in the charge of a master and officers who possess appropriate qualifications, in particular in seamanship, navigation, communications and marine engineering, and that the crew is appropriate in qualification and numbers for the type, size, machinery and equipment of the ship;
- that the master, officers and, to the extent appropriate, the crew are fully conversant with and required to observe the applicable international regulations concerning the safety of life at sea, the prevention of collisions, the prevention, reduction and control of marine pollution, and the maintenance of communications by radio.
- In taking the measures called for in paragraphs 3 and 4 each State is required to conform to generally accepted international regulations, procedures and practices and to take any steps which may be necessary to secure their observance.
- A State which has clear grounds to believe that proper jurisdiction and control with respect to a ship have not been exercised may report the facts to the flag State. Upon receiving such a report, the flag State shall investigate the matter and, if appropriate, take any action necessary to remedy the situation.
- Each State shall cause an inquiry to be held by or before a suitably qualified person or persons into every marine casualty or incident of navigation on the high seas involving a ship flying its flag and causing loss of life or serious injury to nationals of another State or serious damage to ships or installations of another State or to the marine environment. The flag State and the other State shall cooperate in the conduct of any inquiry held by that other State into any such marine casualty or incident of navigation.
Article 95 - Immunity of warships on the high seas
- Warships on the high seas have complete immunity from the jurisdiction of any State other than the flag State.
Article 96 - Immunity of ships used only on government non-commercial service
- Ships owned or operated by a State and used only on government non-commercial service shall, on the high seas, have complete immunity from the jurisdiction of any State other than the flag State.
- In the event of a collision or any other incident of navigation concerning a ship on the high seas, involving the penal or disciplinary responsibility of the master or of any other person in the service of the ship, no penal or disciplinary proceedings may be instituted against such person except before the judicial or administrative authorities either of the flag State or of the State of which such person is a national.
- In disciplinary matters, the State which has issued a master's certificate or a certificate of competence or licence shall alone be competent, after due legal process, to pronounce the withdrawal of such certificates, even if the holder is not a national of the State which issued them.
- No arrest or detention of the ship, even as a measure of investigation, shall be ordered by any authorities other than those of the flag State.
Article 98 - Duty to render assistance
- Every State shall require the master of a ship flying its flag, in so far as he can do so without serious danger to the ship, the crew or the passengers:
- to render assistance to any person found at sea in danger of being lost;
- to proceed with all possible speed to the rescue of persons in distress, if informed of their need of assistance, in so far as such action may reasonably be expected of him;
- after a collision, to render assistance to the other ship, its crew and its passengers and, where possible, to inform the other ship of the name of his own ship, its port of registry and the nearest port at which it will call.
- Every coastal State shall promote the establishment, operation and maintenance of an adequate and effective search and rescue service regarding safety on and over the sea and, where circumstances so require, by way of mutual regional arrangements cooperate with neighbouring States for this purpose.
Article 99 - Prohibition of the transport of slaves
- Every State shall take effective measures to prevent and punish the transport of slaves in ships authorized to fly its flag and to prevent the unlawful use of its flag for that purpose. Any slave taking refuge on board any ship, whatever its flag, shall ipso facto be free.
Article 100 - Duty to cooperate in the repression of piracy
- All States shall cooperate to the fullest possible extent in the repression of piracy on the high seas or in any other place outside the jurisdiction of any State.
Article 101 - Definition of piracy
- Piracy consists of any of the following acts:
- any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation, committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or a private aircraft, and directed:
- on the high seas, against another ship or aircraft, or against persons or property on board such ship or aircraft;
- against a ship, aircraft, persons or property in a place outside the jurisdiction of any State;
- any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation, committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or a private aircraft, and directed:
- any act of voluntary participation in the operation of a ship or of an aircraft with knowledge of facts making it a pirate ship or aircraft;
- any act of inciting or of intentionally facilitating an act described in subparagraph (a) or (b).
Article 102 - Piracy by a warship, government ship or government aircraft whose crew has mutinied
- The acts of piracy, as defined in article 101, committed by a warship, government ship or government aircraft whose crew has mutinied and taken control of the ship or aircraft are assimilated to acts committed by a private ship or aircraft.
Article 103 - Definition of a pirate ship or aircraft
- A ship or aircraft is considered a pirate ship or aircraft if it is intended by the persons in dominant control to be used for the purpose of committing one of the acts referred to in article 101. The same applies if the ship or aircraft has been used to commit any such act, so long as it remains under the control of the persons guilty of that act.
Article 104 - Retention or loss of the nationality of a pirate ship or aircraft
- A ship or aircraft may retain its nationality although it has become a pirate ship or aircraft. The retention or loss of nationality is determined by the law of the State from which such nationality was derived.
Article 105 - Seizure of a pirate ship or aircraft
- On the high seas, or in any other place outside the jurisdiction of any State, every State may seize a pirate ship or aircraft, or a ship or aircraft taken by piracy and under the control of pirates, and arrest the persons and seize the property on board. The courts of the State which carried out the seizure may decide upon the penalties to be imposed, and may also determine the action to be taken with regard to the ships, aircraft or property, subject to the rights of third parties acting in good faith.
Article 106 - Liability for seizure without adequate grounds
- Where the seizure of a ship or aircraft on suspicion of piracy has been effected without adequate grounds, the State making the seizure shall be liable to the State the nationality of which is possessed by the ship or aircraft for any loss or damage caused by the seizure.
Article 107 - Ships and aircraft which are entitled to seize on account of piracy
- A seizure on account of piracy may be carried out only by warships or military aircraft, or other ships or aircraft clearly marked and identifiable as being on government service and authorized to that effect.
Article 108 - Illicit traffic in narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances
- All States shall cooperate in the suppression of illicit traffic in narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances engaged in by ships on the high seas contrary to international conventions.
- Any State which has reasonable grounds for believing that a ship flying its flag is engaged in illicit traffic in narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances may request the cooperation of other States to suppress such traffic.
- All States shall cooperate in the suppression of unauthorized broadcasting from the high seas.
- For the purposes of this Convention, "unauthorized broadcasting" means the transmission of sound radio or television broadcasts from a ship or installation on the high seas intended for reception by the general public contrary to international regulations, but excluding the transmission of distress calls.
- Any person engaged in unauthorized broadcasting may be prosecuted before the court of:
- the flag State of the ship;
- the State of registry of the installation;
- the State of which the person is a national;
- any State where the transmissions can be received; or
- any State where authorized radio communication is suffering interference.
- On the high seas, a State having jurisdiction in accordance with paragraph 3 may, in conformity with article 110, arrest any person or ship engaged in unauthorized broadcasting and seize the broadcasting apparatus.
Article 110 - Right of visit
- Except where acts of interference derive from powers conferred by treaty, a warship which encounters on the high seas a foreign ship, other than a ship entitled to complete immunity in accordance with articles 95 and 96, is not justified in boarding it unless there is reasonable ground for suspecting that:
- the ship is engaged in piracy;
- the ship is engaged in the slave trade;
- the ship is engaged in unauthorized broadcasting and the flag State of the warship has jurisdiction under article 109;
- the ship is without nationality; or
- though flying a foreign flag or refusing to show its flag, the ship is, in reality, of the same nationality as the warship.
- In the cases provided for in paragraph 1, the warship may proceed to verify the ship's right to fly its flag. To this end, it may send a boat under the command of an officer to the suspected ship. If suspicion remains after the documents have been checked, it may proceed to a further examination on board the ship, which must be carried out with all possible consideration.
- If the suspicions prove to be unfounded, and provided that the ship boarded has not committed any act justifying them, it shall be compensated for any loss or damage that may have been sustained.
- These provisions apply mutatis mutandis to military aircraft.
- These provisions also apply to any other duly authorized ships or aircraft clearly marked and identifiable as being on government service.
Article 111 - Right of hot pursuit
- The hot pursuit of a foreign ship may be undertaken when the competent authorities of the coastal State have good reason to believe that the ship has violated the laws and regulations of that State. Such pursuit must be commenced when the foreign ship or one of its boats is within the internal waters, the archipelagic waters, the territorial sea or the contiguous zone of the pursuing State, and may only be continued outside the territorial sea or the contiguous zone if the pursuit has not been interrupted. It is not necessary that, at the time when the foreign ship within the territorial sea or the contiguous zone receives the order to stop, the ship giving the order should likewise be within the territorial sea or the contiguous zone. If the foreign ship is within a contiguous zone, as defined in article 33, the pursuit may only be undertaken if there has been a violation of the rights for the protection of which the zone was established.
- The right of hot pursuit shall apply mutatis mutandis to violations in the exclusive economic zone or on the continental shelf, including safety zones around continental shelf installations, of the laws and regulations of the coastal State applicable in accordance with this Convention to the exclusive economic zone or the continental shelf, including such safety zones.
- The right of hot pursuit ceases as soon as the ship pursued enters the territorial sea of its own State or of a third State.
- Hot pursuit is not deemed to have begun unless the pursuing ship has satisfied itself by such practicable means as may be available that the ship pursued or one of its boats or other craft working as a team and using the ship pursued as a mother ship is within the limits of the territorial sea, or, as the case may be, within the contiguous zone or the exclusive economic zone or above the continental shelf. The pursuit may only be commenced after a visual or auditory signal to stop has been given at a distance which enables it to be seen or heard by the foreign ship.
- The right of hot pursuit may be exercised only by warships or military aircraft, or other ships or aircraft clearly marked and identifiable as being on government service and authorized to that effect.
- Where hot pursuit is effected by an aircraft:
- the provisions of paragraphs 1 to 4 shall apply mutatis mutandis;
- the aircraft giving the order to stop must itself actively pursue the ship until a ship or another aircraft of the coastal State, summoned by the aircraft, arrives to take over the pursuit, unless the aircraft is itself able to arrest the ship. It does not suffice to justify an arrest outside the territorial sea that the ship was merely sighted by the aircraft as an offender or suspected offender, if it was not both ordered to stop and pursued by the aircraft itself or other aircraft or ships which continue the pursuit without interruption.
- The release of a ship arrested within the jurisdiction of a State and escorted to a port of that State for the purposes of an inquiry before the competent authorities may not be claimed solely on the ground that the ship, in the course of its voyage, was escorted across a portion of the exclusive economic zone or the high seas, if the circumstances rendered this necessary.
- Where a ship has been stopped or arrested outside the territorial sea in circumstances which do not justify the exercise of the right of hot pursuit, it shall be compensated for any loss or damage that may have been thereby sustained.
Article 112 - Right to lay submarine cables and pipelines
- All States are entitled to lay submarine cables and pipelines on the bed of the high seas beyond the continental shelf.
- Article 79, paragraph 5, applies to such cables and pipelines.
Article 113 - Breaking or injury of a submarine cable or pipeline
- Every State shall adopt the laws and regulations necessary to provide that the breaking or injury by a ship flying its flag or by a person subject to its jurisdiction of a submarine cable beneath the high seas done wilfully or through culpable negligence, in such a manner as to be liable to interrupt or obstruct telegraphic or telephonic communications, and similarly the breaking or injury of a submarine pipeline or high-voltage power cable, shall be a punishable offence. This provision shall apply also to conduct calculated or likely to result in such breaking or injury. However, it shall not apply to any break or injury caused by persons who acted merely with the legitimate object of saving their lives or their ships, after having taken all necessary precautions to avoid such break or injury.
Article 114 - Breaking or injury by owners of a submarine cable or pipeline of another submarine cable or pipeline
- Every State shall adopt the laws and regulations necessary to provide that, if persons subject to its jurisdiction who are the owners of a submarine cable or pipeline beneath the high seas, in laying or repairing that cable or pipeline, cause a break in or injury to another cable or pipeline, they shall bear the cost of the repairs.
Article 115 - Indemnity for loss incurred in avoiding injury to a submarine cable or pipeline
- Every State shall adopt the laws and regulations necessary to ensure that the owners of ships who can prove that they have sacrificed an anchor, a net or any other fishing gear, in order to avoid injuring a submarine cable or pipeline, shall be indemnified by the owner of the cable or pipeline, provided that the owner of the ship has taken all reasonable precautionary measures beforehand.
SECTION 2 - CONSERVATION AND MANAGEMENT OF THE LIVING RESOURCES OF THE HIGH SEAS
Article 116 - Right to fish on the high seas
- All States have the right for their nationals to engage in fishing on the high seas subject to:
- their treaty obligations;
- the rights and duties as well as the interests of coastal States provided for, inter alia, in article 63, paragraph 2, and articles 64 to 67; and
- the provisions of this section.
Article 117 - Duty of States to adopt with respect to their nationals measures for the conservation of the living resources of the high seas
- All States have the duty to take, or to cooperate with other States in taking, such measures for their respective nationals as may be necessary for the conservation of the living resources of the high seas.
Article 118 - Cooperation of States in the conservation and management of living resources
- States shall cooperate with each other in the conservation and management of living resources in the areas of the high seas. States whose nationals exploit identical living resources, or different living resources in the same area, shall enter into negotiations with a view to taking the measures necessary for the conservation of the living resources concerned. They shall, as appropriate, cooperate to establish subregional or regional fisheries organizations to this end.
Article 119 - Conservation of the living resources of the high seas
- In determining the allowable catch and establishing other conservation measures for the living resources in the high seas, States shall:
- take measures which are designed, on the best scientific evidence available to the States concerned, to maintain or restore populations of harvested species at levels which can produce the maximum sustainable yield, as qualified by relevant environmental and economic factors, including the special requirements of developing States, and taking into account fishing patterns, the interdependence of stocks and any generally recommended international minimum standards, whether subregional, regional or global;
- take into consideration the effects on species associated with or dependent upon harvested species with a view to maintaining or restoring populations of such associated or dependent species above levels at which their reproduction may become seriously threatened.
- Available scientific information, catch and fishing effort statistics, and other data relevant to the conservation of fish stocks shall be contributed and exchanged on a regular basis through competent international organizations, whether subregional, regional or global, where appropriate and with participation by all States concerned.
- States concerned shall ensure that conservation measures and their implementation do not discriminate in form or in fact against the fishermen of any State.
Article 120 - Marine mammals
- Article 65 also applies to the conservation and management of marine mammals in the high seas.
United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea - Part VII
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