The most significant contribution of the UNCLOS III was the creation of the new regime of EEZ. The zone, in fact, has its roots in the concept of Exclusive Fishing Zone and the doctrine of the continental shelf. It was actuated by the developments that had taken place after the Second World War, when many nations (particularly Latin American) started proclaiming 200 miles as their fishery zone. Such claims were motivated by a concern for the conservation of living sea resources and other considerations.
The concept was finally incorporated in 1982 Convention and it has since become part of the customary law of the sea. The EEZ is an area beyond and adjacent to the territorial sea extending up to 200 nautical miles from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured. The zone is an intermediate area between the high seas and the territorial sea with a distinct regime of its own which a State can specifically claim. The zone comprises the area which was previously part of the high seas, and is not under the sovereignty of the coastal State. Thought the Convention refrains from describing EEZ as a part of the high seas, other State generally continue to exercise the freedoms of the high seas in the EEZ, in particular, freedoms of navigation and over flight, lying of submarine cables and pipelines and other internationally lawful uses of the sea related to these freedoms. But the Convention does not specify whether foreign warships, which enjoy freedom of navigation through EEZ, can conduct naval exercises in the EEZ as the can on high seas.
The regime of EEZ accords certain rights to the coastal State. One, it has sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring, exploiting, conserving and managing the natural resources, whether living or non-living, of the waters superjacent to the seabed and of the seabed and sub-soil, and with regard to ‘other activities’, such as the production of energy from the water, currents and winds. Two, the coastal State has the exclusive jurisdiction with respect to the establishment and use of artificial islands, installations and structures; marine scientific research; and the protection and preservation of the marine environment.
While exercising its rights and performing its duties in relation to this zone, the coastal States has to give due regard to the rights and duties of other States. Foreign ships are required to respect these laws and abstain from illegal fishing. But imprisonment or any other corporal punishment for violation of fisheries legislation is excluded. While exercising this right, the coastal State is obliged to conserve and manage the living resources of the EEZ, and to determine the level of exploitation taking into account the environmental and economic factors.
Any conflict on the unregulated uses of the EEZ between a coastal State and other States should be resolved on the basis of equity and in the light of all the relevant circumstances.
The delimitation of the EEZ between States with opposite or adjacent coasts is to be effected ‘by agreement on the basis of international law in order to achieve an equitable solution’. If no agreement can be reached within a reasonable time, the States concerned may resort to the procedures provided in the Convention.
Section 7 of the Maritime Zones Act, in India, is in compliance of the 1982 convention, which prescribes 200 nautical miles as the limit of EEZ. The limit may be altered by the Central Government, giving due regard to international law and State practice, through a notification in the Official Gazette to this effect. The notification should have the approval of both the House of Parliament before issuance. No person, including a foreign government, can explore or exploit this area without an agreement with the Central Government or an authority granted by the Central Government. This provision, however shall not apply to fishing by an Indian citizen.
The Central Government, by notification, declares any area as a designated area and makes laws with respect and also for the protection of the marine environment, or customs or other fiscal matters in relation to such designated area. While declaring any area of the EEZ a designated area, the government will ensure freedom of navigation, by taking into account the interests of India. The government may extend any law, imposing restrictions and modifications, temporarily on the EEZ or part thereof, and may make any provision for the enforcement of such law.