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Issue No:83
  • :0976 1121
  • :September
  • :2020

Samudra Report No.83, September 2020


Analysis / UNCLOS

Many a Slip

The 1960 UN Conference on the Law of the Sea failed to reach agreement on the breadth of the territorial sea and fishing limits, with India, Chile and Ecuador playing decisive roles

This article is by Kirsten Sellars (, visiting fellow at the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, Australian National University, Australia

The road to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) was littered with failed treaty-making conferences. In 1930, a League of Nations conference broke up without a decision over territorial waters. In 1958, a UN conference failed to agree on the breadth of the territorial sea and associated fishing limits. In 1960, a follow-up UN conference to decide these two outstanding questions collapsed.

At the 1960 conference, a joint United States-Canada plan emerged as the front-runner, calling for a universal six-nautical-mile territorial sea plus a non-exclusive six-mile fishing zone, with a 10-year phase-out of ‘historic fishing rights’ for states fishing in other state’s waters over the previous five years. This plan, backed by the maritime powers—who sought to maximize their own naval, merchant and fishing fleets’ global reach by minimizing others’...

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