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A little education regarding United States territorial waters.

Posted: February 28th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Did you know? | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

Maritime territory of the United States

this blog post is intended to shed some light on the topics discussed in publication 519 of the IRS on substantial presence.


See also: Territorial waters from Wikipedia

The Government of the United States of America has claims to the oceans in accord with international law, which delineates a zone of territory adjacent to territorial lands and seas. United States protects this marine environment, though not interfering with other lawful uses of this zone. The United States jurisdiction has been established on vessels, ships, and artificial islands (along with other marine structures).

The primary enforcer of maritime law is the United States Coast Guard. Federal and state governments share economic and regulatory jurisdiction over the waters owned by the country. (See tidelands.)

The Exclusive Economic Zones of the United States

The Exclusive Economic Zones of the United States

International law concerning United States territory

The United States is not restricted from making laws governing its own territory by international law. The United States territory can include occupied territory, which is a geographic area that claims sovereignty, but is being forcibly subjugated to the authority of the United States of America. United States territory can also include disputed territory, which is a geographic area claimed by United States of America and one (or more) rival governments.

Like most nations, the United States of America has acquired territory by force and conquest (Latin, “to seek for“). Internationally (specifically according to the Hague conventions), United States territory can include areas occupied by and controlled by a United States army. When de facto military control is maintained and exercised, occupation (and thus possession) extends to that territory. By convention, the forces in control of the territory have a responsibility to provide for the basic needs of individuals under their control (which includes food, clothing, shelter, medical attention, law maintenance, and social order). To prevent systematic abuse of puppet governments by the occupation forces, they must enforce laws that were in place in the territory prior to the occupation.



Britannica Concise Encyclopedia:

territorial waters

Waters under the sovereign jurisdiction of a nation or state, including both marginal sea and inland waters. The concept originated in the 17th-century controversy over the status of the sea. Though the doctrine that the sea must be free to all was upheld, a nation’s jurisdiction over its coastal waters was also recognized. Nations subscribing to the Law of the Sea observe a territorial limit of 12 nautical mi (22 km) from shore. Territorial rights include the airspace above those waters and the seabed below them. See also high seas.



Oxford Dictionary of Geography: 

territorial seas

territorial watersThe coastal waters together with the sea bed beneath them and the air space above them, over which a state claims sovereignty. Traditionally, this area included all the coastal waters up to three nautical miles from the coast. The definition of a landward baseline has been problematical for countries, such as Norway, with an indented coastline. In such cases, a baseline is drawn to link the major promontories.

The extent claimed from the baseline varies. Most countries claim twelve nautical miles. In 1983, the Law of the Sea Convention proposed a 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone with rights over the sea and the resources of the sea bed. It has not been possible to demarcate such zones over most European waters since the nations are less than 400 nautical miles apart. In such cases, a median line is drawn between the baselines of the states concerned.



Gale Encyclopedia of US History:

Territorial Sea

Territorial Sea is a belt of coastal waters subject to the territorial jurisdiction of a coastal state. The territorial jurisdiction of the coastal state extends to the territorial sea, subject to certain obligations deriving from international law; the most significant of which is the right of innocent passage by foreign ships. The distinction between the territorial sea, in effect an extension of exclusive coastal state sovereignty over its land mass and the high seas, a global commons beyond the reach of any state’s jurisdiction, dates at least to the early eighteenth century in Europe.

A limit to the territorial sea of three nautical miles from the coast was accepted by many countries until the latter part of the twentieth century, including by the United States, which claimed a three-mile territorial sea dating from the beginning of the republic. A United Nations–sponsored conference in 1958 adopted four major multilateral agreements on the law of the sea, but failed to secure an international agreement on a compromise limit to the territorial sea. The United States, along with other maritime powers such as the United Kingdom, Japan, and the Netherlands, argued for the traditional three-mile limit so as to preclude coastal-state encroachments into the navigational freedoms of the high seas. A second UN conference convened in 1960 was similarly unsuccessful. The Third United Conference on the Law of the Sea, initiated in 1973, adopted a major new multilateral convention in Montego Bay, Jamaica, in 1982. That agreement confirmed the emerging trend toward a twelve-mile limit. Although the United States is not a party to the 1982 convention, President Reagan in December 1988 claimed a twelve-mile territorial sea on behalf of the United States.

According to the Montego Bay convention, which has emerged as the international standard even for those states not party to it, measurement of the territorial sea from convoluted shorelines may be made from baselines connecting headlands. Baselines are also used for bays and estuaries with headlands not over twenty-four miles apart, between outer points of coastal inland chains that enclose internal waters, and for historic bays to which territorial claims have been established by long and uncontested use.

The territorial sea is now but one component of a larger international legal regime governing the interests of coastal states in their adjacent waters. The United States, like many states, claims limited jurisdiction in a “contiguous zone” of twelve additional miles beyond the territorial sea to enforce customs, fiscal, immigration, and sanitary laws, and to punish violations of its laws committed in its territory or territorial sea. U.S. courts have supported the arrest of smugglers hovering beyond territorial waters with the intent to violate customs laws. Legislation authorizing a four-league customs-enforcement zone was protested by other countries, but during Prohibition several countries agreed by treaty to arrests within a one-hour sailing distance from shore.

Many countries, following President Harry S. Truman’s proclamation in 1945, have claimed jurisdiction over continental shelves extending off their coasts. This form of jurisdiction extends to the seabed and not the water column above it, primarily for the purpose of exploiting resources such as oil and gas. The extent of the continental shelf may vary, depending on the shape of the sea floor. “Exclusive economic zones,” which govern the use of the water column primarily for the purposes of fishing, may extend up to 200 nautical miles from a coastal state’s baseline. In 1983 President Reagan claimed an exclusive economic zone of 200 nautical miles on behalf of the United States.

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