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Freedom of the seas on the high seas

The regulations applicable to shipping depend on the sea area in which a ship is located. The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UN Convention on the Law of the Sea - UNCLOS) distinguishes between the territorial sea, the exclusive economic zone and the high seas. In the area of ​​the high seas, ships of all flags basically enjoy unrestricted freedom of navigation as one of the so-called "freedoms of the high seas". This also applies in the area of ​​an exclusive economic zone declared by coastal states (width up to 200 nautical miles measured from the respective coast). Within this zone, however, the justified use of economic resources by the coastal state must be observed.

Peaceful passage through territorial seas and straits transit

Beyond the mainland, the territorial sea extends up to a width of 12 nautical miles. It is part of the national territory of the coastal state and is therefore subject to its sovereignty. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, however, restricts the sovereign rights of the coastal state with regard to shipping by providing for the right to peaceful passage. According to this, ships from other flag states are allowed to cross the territorial sea quickly and without interruption without prior authorization. The coastal state may enact regulations on the manner of peaceful passage, for example stipulating certain shipping lanes that ships passing through must adhere to.

Straits, in which the territorial sea of ​​the respective neighboring states border each other, play a special role. Numerous straits are of particular strategic importance for international shipping. Often there are no alternative routes for ships here, which is why the Convention on the Law of the Sea, regardless of the territorial sea areas there, fundamentally forbids the neighboring states to obstruct transit through such straits. The neighboring states only have limited powers to ensure the safety of shipping and to intervene in the event of the threat of environmental pollution. This ensures that the free navigation rights applicable on the high seas are maintained as far as possible even when passing through straits used for international shipping.

Many of the basic rules about the freedoms of the high seas and peaceful passage initially developed under customary international law, i.e. as unwritten but generally accepted rules. Today, however, they are anchored in writing in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of ​​December 10, 1982.

Traffic rules for shipping - the International Maritime Organization (IMO)

Shipping-related rules and standards worldwide are set within the framework of the International Maritime Organization (in English: "International Maritime Organization" or "IMO" for short) based in London. The IMO is a specialized agency of the United Nations with 174 full member states and 3 associated member states. Germany has been a full member since 1959. In addition to the basic rules for maritime shipping, the IMO also deals, for example, with safety on the high seas or environmental protection.