International law

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Zones under international law according to the Convention on the Law of the Sea
High seas in dark blue, exclusive economic zones in light blue, land masses in white

The international law of the sea is one of the oldest regulatory matters of international law . It contains agreements on the freedom of the high seas , on the start of foreign ports on Assistance in distress , on the pollution of the seas, on the continental shelf and on the delimitation of the coastal offshore territorial waters . However, it does not extend to inland waters ( rivers or lakes) inland .

Modern international law of the sea ​​is primarily determined by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 1982 (UNCLOS) (see there for more information).


Modern maritime law is based on the idea of ​​the free sea (mare liberum) , first advocated by Hugo Grotius in 1609 , which offers access for all. Opposite it stood the doctrine of the mare clausum developed by John Selden in 1635 , according to which the sea was divided into spheres of interest of different states to the exclusion of third countries . However, this view could not prevail. In 1703 Cornelis van Bynkershoek took a mediating position . He assumed that, in principle, ownership of the sea can exist, and that as far as the power of the state extends. He saw the range of the guns as the limit . The gun range at that time corresponds to the three-mile zone.

The sea has long played an important role as a transport route for commercial goods . Even today, despite aviation and railways, it is the only lucrative means of transport for many goods. In addition, the fish stocks, which for a long time were inexhaustible, serve as food supplies in many countries and are an important economic factor. The overfishing of the seas has resulted in many traditionally living from fishing States to economic problems.

Due to new technical possibilities, the sea is also gaining importance as a depository for raw materials . Substantial amounts of crude oil , gases and minerals are stored in the sea ​​floor and can be extracted today. In addition, modern ships and submarines make a considerably better military use of the high seas possible.

From the middle of the 20th century , therefore, the coastal states increasingly asserted sovereignty claims over marine resources. In addition, there were fishing fleets far from home waters, as well as the increasing risk of marine pollution .

All this led to the fact that in the 1970s the expansion of territorial waters , which had been in effect since the 17th century, was expanded from three nautical miles (the range of a cannonball) to 12 nautical miles. Individual states even asserted up to 200 nautical miles - a claim that is, however, constantly disputed.

In the face of such demands, concerns grew in the international community (and especially among landlocked states ) that the principle of mare liberum might be suppressed.

The law of the sea has been discussed within the United Nations since 1949 . The first two UN conferences on the law of the sea took place in Geneva in 1958 and 1960 . Only the first conference achieved some success with the Geneva Convention on the Law of the Sea . In addition, several contracts on individual topics, such as B. the ban on the stationing of nuclear weapons on the seabed ( Seabed Treaty ) concluded in 1972. In 1973 the Third UN Conference on the Law of the Sea was convened, which finally ended in 1982 with the conclusion of the Convention on the Law of the Sea . Most states (including the Federal Republic of Germany ) have now joined this, but not all of them (including the USA , for example ) - for the latter, however, it is indirectly considered customary international law .


Latest books in French (not translated into German):

  • Jean-Pierre Beurier & al. (Ed.): Droits maritimes 2009–2010. 2nd edition, Dalloz-Sirey, Paris 2008, ISBN 978-2-247-07775-5 .
  • Pierre Angelelli, Yves Moretti: Cours de droit maritime. Infomer, Rennes 2008, ISBN 978-2-913596-37-5 .

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