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Maritime Boundaries and High Seas in the Arctic

(from ASMA Report 2009)


Maritime Boundaries

To date, there are eight bilateral agreements delimiting maritime zone and continental shelf boundaries between the five countries that border the Arctic Ocean, in addition to unresolved boundary issues. Lack of clearly delimited maritime boundaries for territorial seas and EEZs is of potential concern for future shipping in the Arctic. Ship operators may face uncertainty over which national shipping laws are applicable in a disputed zone, particularly with reference to laws and regulations adopted pursuant to Article 234 of UNCLOS and with regard to penalties and compensation for damage caused by ship-source spills. Unresolved maritime boundaries may also reduce opportunities to develop marine resources and expand shipping in the Arctic. This situation is, however, no different than in other maritime areas where maritime boundaries are not agreed.

High Seas

Trans-Arctic shipping across the high seas of the Arctic (i.e., beyond EEZs) raises other governance issues. Because a coastal state’s authority to regulate foreign shipping does not extend to the high seas, transiting ships would only be subject to global shipping safety, environmental and security rules and standards adopted through the IMO and as may be applied by the flag states. Thus the adequacy of international shipping standards for Arctic conditions and the need to provide special protective measures for the Arctic high seas must be considered.


    Arctic Council, 2009, Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment (AMSA), Arctic Council.©