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Document 21998A0623(01)

United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea

United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea



United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea

Decision 98/392/EC on the conclusion by the European Community of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the Agreement relating to its implementation of Part XI


The decision formally approves the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and its accompanying Part XI of the Agreement allowing the EU to become a party to both.

The convention sets out a legal regime for the world’s oceans and seas establishing rules governing all uses of the oceans and their resources.


The convention sets out:

  • the corresponding legal regimes in the different parts of the oceans including:
    • the territorial sea*;
    • the contiguous zone*;
    • the exclusive economic zone*;
    • the continental shelf*;
    • the high seas*; and
    • the international seabed area (the ‘Area’) beyond the limits of national jurisdiction;
    • together with the respective rights and obligations for all countries;
  • the rights and obligations of coastal countries with regard to the establishment and management of waters under their sovereignty or jurisdiction:
    • the territorial sea (up to 12 nautical miles from established baselines);
    • the contiguous zone (up to 24 nautical miles from established baselines);
    • the exclusive economic zones (up to 200 nautical miles from established baselines and the continental shelf);
  • rights and obligations of other countries (including landlocked and geographically disadvantaged countries) in such areas;
  • the freedoms of the high seas for all countries (including landlocked countries), including:
    • navigation and overflight;
    • laying of submarine cables and pipelines;
    • construction of artificial islands and installations;
    • fishing and of scientific research;
  • the duties of flag countries;
  • rules for the conservation and management of the living resources of the seas including with regard to cooperation for the management and exploitation of shared fish stocks;
  • rules for the exploitation of the mineral resources of the seabed of the Area including the establishment of the International Seabed Authority which regulates and authorises seabed exploration and mining and collects and distributes royalties;
  • responsibilities of countries bordering enclosed or semi-enclosed seas*;
  • rules for the protection and preservation of the marine environment including requirements to undertake impact assessment and requirements on countries to prevent and control marine pollution and their liability for failing to prevent it;
  • rules for the conduct of scientific marine research;
  • rules for capacity building and the transfer of marine technology;
  • a compulsory dispute resolution mechanism: disputes can be submitted to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, to the International Court of Justice, or to arbitration. The Tribunal has exclusive jurisdiction over deep seabed mining disputes.


The decision has applied since 13 July 1998.

The convention entered into force in 1994. All EU countries have signed the convention. The EU signed the convention in 2003. A declaration specifies the matters governed by the convention and the agreement, in respect of which competence has been transferred to it by the EU countries.



Territorial sea: a state’s territorial sea extends up to 12 nautical miles (22.2 km; 13.8 mi) from its baseline.
Contiguous zone: a band of water extending farther from the outer edge of the territorial sea, within which a state can exert limited control for the purpose of preventing or punishing the breaching of its customs, fiscal, immigration or sanitary laws and rules within its territory or territorial sea.
Exclusive economic zone: an exclusive economic zone extends from the baseline to a maximum of 200 nautical miles (370.4 km; 230.2 mi). A coastal country has control of all economic resources (e.g. fishing, mining and oil exploration) within its exclusive economic zone, as well as of any pollution of those resources.
Continental shelf: it extends out to the outer edge of the continental margin but at least 200 nautical miles (370 km; 230 mi) from the baselines of the territorial sea of a coastal country.
High seas: the open ocean, especially that which is not within any country’s jurisdiction.
Enclosed or semi-enclosed seas: a gulf, basin or sea surrounded by two or more countries and connected to another sea or the ocean by a narrow outlet — or consisting entirely or primarily of the territorial seas and exclusive economic zones of 2 or more coastal countries.


The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and of the Agreement on the Implementation of Part XI thereof — United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (OJ L 179, 23.6.1998, pp. 3-134)

Council Decision 98/392/EC of 23 March 1998 concerning the conclusion by the European Community of the United Nations Convention of 10 December 1982 on the Law of the Sea and the Agreement of 28 July 1994 relating to the implementation of Part XI thereof (OJ L 179, 23.6.1998, pp. 1-2)


Agreement relating to the implementation of part XI of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982 (OJ L 215, 20.8.1994, pp. 10-20)

last update 28.08.2018