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Strait of Hormuz Legal Status

In a December 1982 declaration accompanying signature on the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), Iran appeared to require prior authorization for warships to enter territorial sea and limited transit passage right in Strait of Hormuz to signatories of 1982 Convention. Iran's declaration stated: "In the light of customary international law, the provisions of article 21, read in association with article 19 (on the Meaning of Innocent Passage) and article 25 (on the Rights of Protection of the Coastal States), recognizes (though implicitly) the rights of the Coastal States to take measures to safeguard their security interests including the adoption of laws and regulations regarding, inter alia, the requirements of prior authorization for warships willing to exercise the right of innocent passage through the territorial sea."

Under the 1982 LOS Convention, a coastal state may claim a territorial sea up to 12 nautical miles from the coastline. Each nautical mile is equal to 1852 meters. While the territorial sea is part of the sovereign territory of the state, ships of all states have a right of innocent passage through the territorial. Warships which do not comply with the laws and regulations of the coastal state concerning passage through the territorial sea can be ordered to leave the territorial sea immediately.

On May 2, 1993, the Government of Iran completed legislative action on an "Act on the Marine Areas of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the Persian Gulf and the Oman Sea." The legislation provides a reasonably comprehensive set of maritime claims to a territorial sea, contiguous zone, exclusive economic zone (EEZ), and continental shelf, and Iran's jurisdictional claims within those areas. Many of these claims do not comport with the requirements of international law as reflected in the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (LOS Convention). Warships and certain other ships are, contrary to international law, required to receive prior approval to engage in innocent passage.

Iran's requirement for prior approval is not recognized by the US. The LOS Convention does not permit a coastal State to require a foreign vessel to seek the prior authorization of, or notification to, the coastal State as a condition of conducting innocent passage through its territorial sea. Warships representing a wide variety of nations pass through Iran's territorial sea in innocent passage without objection from Iran, despite Iran's requirement that prior authorization be obtained for each transit. These examples of State practice, shared in by many nations and fully consistent with international law, appear to outweigh Iran's claims to restrict freedom of navigation. The US protested this stated requirement in 1983 and 1987, conducted operational assertions in 1989 and 1992 of prior permission requirement, and conducted regular transits of the Strait of Hormuz starting in 1983.

As of 2007 the United States remained a non-signatory of the 1982 United Nations Law of the Sea Convention (USCLOS), yet strongly supports the navigational causes contained therein. The U.S. Freedom of Navigation program has ensured that excessive coastal state claims over the world's oceans and airspace are repeatedly challenged. By diplomatic protests and operational assertions, the United States has insisted upon adherence by the nations of the world to the international law of the sea, as reflected in the UN Law of the Sea Convention.



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