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International waters


International waters

Areas outside of exclusive economic zones in dark blue.

The terms international waters or trans-boundary waters apply where any of the following types of bodies of water (or their drainage basins) transcend international boundaries: oceans, large marine ecosystems, enclosed or semi-enclosed regional seas and estuaries, rivers, lakes, groundwater systems (aquifers), and wetlands.[1]

Oceans, seas, and waters outside of national jurisdiction are also referred to as the high seas or, in Latin, mare liberum (meaning free sea).

Ships sailing the high seas are generally under the jurisdiction of the flag state (if there is one);[2] however, when a ship is involved in certain criminal acts, such as piracy,[3] any nation can exercise jurisdiction under the doctrine of universal jurisdiction. International waters can be contrasted with internal waters, territorial waters and exclusive economic zones.


  • International waterways 1
  • Disputes over international waters 2
  • International waters agreements 3
    • Global agreements 3.1
    • Regional agreements 3.2
    • Water-body-specific agreements 3.3
  • International waters institutions 4
    • Freshwater institutions 4.1
    • Marine institutions 4.2
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7

International waterways

Komárno in Slovakia is an inland port on the Danube River which is an important international waterway.

Several international treaties have established freedom of navigation on semi-enclosed seas.

Other international treaties have opened up rivers, which are not traditionally international waterways.

Disputes over international waters

Atlantic Ocean - the main zone of sea transport in 15th-20th centuries.

Current unresolved disputes over whether particular waters are "International waters" include:

In addition to formal disputes, the government of Somalia exercises little control de facto over Somali territorial waters. Consequently, much piracy, illegal dumping of waste and fishing without permit has occurred.

Although water is often seen as a source of conflict, recent research suggests that water management can be a source for cooperation between countries. Such cooperation will benefit participating countries by being the catalyst for larger socio-economic development.[4] For instance, the countries of the Senegal River Basin that cooperate through the Organisation pour la Mise en Valeur du Fleuve Sénégal (OMVS) have achieved greater socio-economic development and overcome challenges relating to agriculture and other issues.[5]

International waters agreements

Sea areas in international rights, seen from a top-down perspective.
Limits of national jurisdiction and sovereignty
Outer space (including Earth orbits; the Moon and other celestial bodies, and their orbits)
national airspace territorial waters airspace contiguous zone airspace international airspace
land territory surface internal waters surface territorial waters surface contiguous zone surface Exclusive Economic Zone surface international waters surface
internal waters territorial waters Exclusive Economic Zone international waters
land territory underground Continental Shelf surface extended continental shelf surface international seabed surface
Continental Shelf underground extended continental shelf underground international seabed underground
  full national jurisdiction and sovereignty
  restrictions on national jurisdiction and sovereignty
  international jurisdiction per common heritage of mankind

Global agreements

Regional agreements

Map showing the parties of the Barcelona Convention.

At least ten conventions are included within the Regional Seas Program of UNEP,[14] including:

  1. the Atlantic Coast of West and Central Africa;[15]
  2. the North-East Pacific (Antigua Convention);
  3. the Mediterranean (Barcelona Convention);
  4. the wider Caribbean (Cartagena Convention);
  5. the South-East Pacific;[16]
  6. the South Pacific (Nouméa Convention);
  7. the East African seaboard;[17]
  8. the Kuwait region (Kuwait Convention);
  9. the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden (Jeddah Convention).

Addressing regional freshwater issues is the 1992 Helsinki Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (UNECE/Helsinki Water Convention)[18]

Water-body-specific agreements

  • Baltic Sea (Helsinki Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area, 1992)[19]
  • Black Sea (Bucharest Convention)[20]
  • Caspian Sea (Framework Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Caspian Sea)[21]
  • Lake Tanganyika (Convention for the Sustainable Management of Lake Tanganyika)[22]

International waters institutions

Freshwater institutions

Marine institutions

See also


  1. ^ International Waters, United Nations Development Programme
  2. ^ UNCLOS article 92(1)
  3. ^ UNCLOS article 105
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ Yearbook of International Cooperation on Environment and Development
    Marine Environment
    Marine Living Resources
    Freshwater Resources Archived February 12, 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ London Convention 1972
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ Text of the Convention on Biological Diversity especially Articles 12-13, as related to transboundary aquatic ecosystems
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^ Lima Convention, 1986)
  17. ^ Nairobi Convention, 1985);
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^ Bucharest Convention, 1992), see also the Black Sea Commission
  21. ^ Framework Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Caspian Sea, 2003
  22. ^ Convention for the Sustainable Management of Lake Tanganyika, 2003

External links

  • Bibliography on Water Resources and International Law Peace Palace Library
  • The GEF International Waters Resource Centre (GEF IWRC)
  • The Integrated Management of Transboundary Waters in Europe (TransCat)
  • The International Water Law Project
  • The International Water Resources Association (IWRA)
  • FAO
    • Ocean Atlas
    • Transboundary Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) article
    • OneFish fisheries research portal
    • Regional Fisheries Bodies of the World portal
  • The UNDP-GEF article describing international waters from which this article has been adapted.
  • UNEP freshwater thematic portal on transboundary waters
  • UNESCO thematic portals for oceans, water, coasts and small islands
  • WaterWiki: A new Wiki-based on-line knowledge map and collaboration tool for Water-practitioners in the Europe & CIS region
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