On 7 April, the US Navy’s 7th Fleet issued a release to say one of its warships, guided missile destroyer USS John Paul Jones, had asserted navigational rights and freedoms around 130 nautical miles west of Lakshadweep. This is inside an area India considers its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Exclusive Economic Zone(EEZ):
An exclusive economic zone (EEZ), as prescribed by the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, is an area of the sea in which a sovereign state has special rights regarding the exploration and use of marine resources, including energy production from water and wind.
- The EEZ of a coastal country extends up to 200 nautical miles (370km) from its shores.
- The country in question has exclusive rights to all resources within its EEZ.
- It can extend to a maximum of 200 nautical miles from the baseline. The baseline is normally measured is the low-water line along the coast as indicated on large-scale charts officially approved by the coastal state.
- The EEZ does not include the territorial sea and also does not include the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles.
- The EEZ includes the contiguous zone.
- It also has to respect the rights of other countries in the EEZ such as the freedom of navigation.
While many have been recognized by the concerned countries, a few are being disputed. In some cases, disputed boundaries led to large areas of disputed EEZ, notably the Spratly Islands on the South China Sea, portions being contested by China, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines.
In the EEZ, the coastal state has the rights to:
- Explore and exploit, conserve and manage the natural resources (living or non-living).
- Produce energy from wind, currents and water.
- Establish and use artificial islands, structures and installations.
- Conduct marine scientific research.
- Protect and preserve the marine environment.
What lies at the core of the problem in the recent Incident?
Differing interpretations of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is the problem. India believes the convention does not authorize states to carry out military exercises in the EEZ without the consent of the coastal state, especially if vessels are carrying arms. Analysts say UNCLOS allows innocent passage even through territorial waters.
Territorial sea, as defined by the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, is a belt of coastal waters extending at most 12 nautical miles (22 km; 14 mi) from the baseline (usually the mean low-water mark) of a coastal state.:
The difference between territorial sea and the EEZ is that the former confers full sovereignty over the waters, whereas the latter is merely a “sovereign right” which refers to the coastal nation’s rights below the surface of the sea. The surface waters are international waters.
The term territorial waters is sometimes used informally to refer to any area of water over which a state has jurisdiction, including internal waters, the territorial sea, the contiguous zone, the exclusive economic zone and potentially the continental shelf.