UNCLOS At 40: How It Defines Rules-Based Order Of The Seas

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), also known as the Law of the Sea Convention or the Law of the Sea Treaty, is an agreement that sets a legal foundation for all marine and maritime operations, however, the treaty has been ratified by 168 states, including Palestine, the Cook Islands, Niue and the European Union as of now

Photo Credit : Indian Navy,

India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier INS Vikrant

The construction of the country's first indigenous aircraft carrier, the INS Vikrant, is a watershed moment in the country's naval history. Aircraft carriers are one of the most valuable sea-based assets for any country with a seacoast.

An aircraft carrier enables the country to project tactical air power over great distances, including air interdiction, anti-surface warfare, offensive and defensive counter-air, and an airborne electronic attack and early warning.

It brings the overall air power to the operational area, which is not just limited to what an aeroplane or helicopter can provide, it also includes the ballistic and cruise missiles that are carried aboard by the escort and support ships that travel with the carrier as part of a Carrier Strike Group (CSG). CSG is a naval fleet consisting of an aircraft carrier capital ship and its large number of escorts, together defining the group.

A CSG has global mobility according to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)'s guarantees of the freedom of navigation and overflight in international waters.

Under International Freedom of Navigation Laws, aircraft carriers and other warships are recognised as sovereign territories in almost all oceans. As long as a ship does not approach any nation's coast, the crew can carry on as if they were back home.

However, the contiguous zone is the area of the sea that lies outside and adjacent to a coastal country's territorial waters. The concept of an adjacent zone emerges as a result of countries' inability to effectively protect all of their interests due to limited interference in the territorial sea. The 1982 Convention established an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) encompassing the entire contiguous zone.

Article 33 of the 1982 Convention states that the contiguous zone cannot be more than 24 nautical miles from the baseline where the territorial sea area is measured. As a result, the contiguous area extends 12 miles from the territorial sea.

Last year, India reacted angrily when US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin announced that one of its warships, the USS John Paul Jones (DDG 53), had conducted a Freedom of Navigation operation approximately 130 nautical miles west of the Lakshadweep Islands, which was inside India's exclusive economic zone, without requesting India's prior consent.

Later, the Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement that the UNCLOS does not authorise other states to conduct military exercises or manoeuvres, particularly those involving the use of weapons or explosives, in the EEZ and on the continental shelf without the consent of the coastal state.

According to the Indian Territorial Waters, Continental Shelf, Exclusive Economic Zone and Other Maritime Zones Act, 1976, "all foreign ships (other than warships, including submarines and other underwater vehicles) shall enjoy the right of innocent passage through the territorial waters." The innocent passage means the transit of the ship is not harmful to the peace, good order or security of India.

But when foreign warships, including submarines and other underwater vehicles, want to enter or pass through India’s territorial water, they must first inform the Indian government.

However, the US Navy's Operation Freedom of Navigation near Lakshadweep was not unprecedented and according to the report, the US Navy has carried out this type of exercise throughout the oceans near China, Russia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Maldives and Saudi Arabia. India was also mentioned in the 2017, 2016 and 2015 reports. But the operation's public declaration has raised questions in India.

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UNCLOS INS Vikrant Exclusive Economic Zone


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