UNCLOS III, which is the latest version of United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) covers all the vital issues regarding the maritime boundaries. This convention introduced a number of provisions and covered the most significant issues such as setting limits, navigation, archipelagic status and transit regimes, exclusive economic zones (EEZs), continental shelf jurisdiction, deep seabed mining, the exploitation regime, protection of the marine environment, scientific research, and settlement of disputes. This treaty defines the following terms:
Internal Waters refers to the all water and waterways on the landward side of the baseline of a country. In the internal waters a country is free to set laws, regulate its use and use of its resources. There is no interference of the foreign countries.
Territorial waters refer to 12 Nautical Miles from the baseline. In this area the countries are free to set laws, regulate use and also use its resources. However, the foreign vessels are NOT given all rights to passage through except "Innocent Passage". The innocent passage refers to the passing through the waters which is not prejudicial to peace and security. However, the nations have right to suspend the innocent passage. The submarine while passing through other country’s territorial waters has to navigate on the surface and show their flags.
If the country is an archipelago or has an archipelago under it, a baseline is drawn between the outermost points of the islands, provided that these islands are close to each other. All water inside this is called Archipelagic Waters. The state has full sovereignty over these waters very much similar to the internal waters and the foreign vessels are allowed for innocent passage through archipelagic waters.
The contiguous zone refers to the area 12 Nautical Miles beyond the Territorial waters. This means that it is 24 Nautical Miles from the baseline limit. In this zone the country can enforce laws only in 4 areas viz. pollution, taxation, customs, and immigration.
Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs)
Exclusive Economic Zones refers to the area from the edge of the territorial sea out to 200 nautical miles from the baseline. In this area, the country has sole exploitation rights over all natural resources. The most important reason to introduce EEZ was to halt the clashes over the Fishing Rights and Oil Rights. In the EEZ, the foreign vessels have freedom of navigation and over flight, subject to the regulation of the coastal states. Foreign states are allowed to lay submarine pipes and cables.
The dispute in Arctic Seas is between these 5 countries viz. Russia, United States, Canada, Norway & Denmark. The UNCLOS had given every country a ten year period to make claims to an extended continental shelf which, if approved, gives it exclusive rights to resources on or below the seabed in the vast circumpolar territories.