Straits
in The law of the sea
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‘Strait’ is not a term of art, and it is not defined in any of the conventions produced by the United Nations Conferences on the Law of the Sea. It bears its ordinary meaning, being ‘geographically, a narrow passage between two land masses or islands or groups of islands connecting two sea areas.’ It is the legal status of the waters constituting the strait and the fact of their use by international shipping, rather than any definition of ‘strait’ as such, that determines the rights of coastal and flag States in the waters of the strait. This chapter first considers the rules governing straits prior to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), before turning to a detailed analysis of the UNCLOS regime, notably the transit passage through straits used for international navigation, established by Part III of the Convention. It addresses a coastal State’s legislative jurisdiction and the (less clear) scope of a coastal State’s enforcement jurisdiction. It considers the issue of whether there is a right similar to transit passage through international straits as a matter of customary international law. The chapter concludes by noting special regimes which regulate passage through particular straits.

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