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The Fight to Control the South China Sea
Which Countries Are Fighting Over Water?
In order to get a basic grasp on the laws of international waters, start at the coastline. Extending 12 nautical miles from a country's coastline is what's known as "territorial waters." Within these borders, the sovereign country has full rights to all things at and below the water's surface. In addition, there's the exclusive economize zone (EEZ). In this territory, a country has full rights to all resources below the ocean's surface-think fishing, oil drilling, etc. Ships are allowed to pass through the EEZ, but cannot extract any natural resources from the sea.
Outside of this, you get into international waters. The United Nations has a fair amount of regulation on the open water, as outlined in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. First, the activity aboard any ship is subject to the jurisdiction and laws of the vessel's country of origin. However, there's also "universal jurisdiction," which allows any country to bring criminal charges, regardless of nationality or where the alleged crime took place. Typically, universal jurisdiction is utilized in cases of war crimes, genocide, and other very serious matters.
Still, despite all the legal language and international treaties, international waters remain a highly disputed issue. Just look at what's happening in the South China Sea. Several countries are also jockeying for control over parts of the Arctic. While the days of mega empires may be gone, control of the open seas and all the economic riches and strategic powers that come with it remain very present today.
What is the EEZ? (oceanservice.noaa.gov)
"The U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) extends no more than 200 nautical miles from the territorial sea baseline and is adjacent to the 12 nautical mile territorial sea of the U.S., including the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and any other territory or possession over which the United States exercises sovereignty. "
What Would It Take To Cut U.S. Data Cables And Halt Internet Access? (npr.org)
"In the tense relationship between Russia and the United States, the latest salvo comes via The New York Times: According to American military and intelligence officials, Russian submarines and spy ships are "aggressively operating" near submarine cables that carry Internet communications, raising concerns of a potential attack "in times of tension or conflict.'"
Maritime Piracy and International Law (crimesofwar.org)
"2008 saw an unprecedented upsurge in piracy at sea resulting in significant international efforts to suppress pirate attacks. "
The ungoverned seas (economist.com)
"Stick-slim and still, Captain Lube sits in Lagos's commercial fishing harbour, watching his crew clean a rusting shrimp trawler."