In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Islands

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews on the Law of the Sea
  • General Overviews on Islands and Archipelagos
  • Textbooks
  • Encyclopedias
  • The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)
  • Coastal Islands and Archipelagos
  • The ICJ Judgment in the Fisheries Case (Norway versus United Kingdom)
  • Islands and Delimitation of Maritime Spaces
  • State Practice Concerning Islands and Archipelagos

International Law Islands
Esperanza Orihuela Calatayud
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 June 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199796953-0076


One of the features of the contemporary Law of the Sea is the establishment of specific legal regimes for certain geographic realities to which, due to their peculiar characteristics, the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea has given particular attention. This feature is reflected in the regulations established for islands and archipelagos, special regimes that, together with the rules laid down for drawing straight baselines, show a heterogeneous treatment of these realities according to their geographical location, so making it possible to notice the existence of differential treatment between coastal islands and archipelagos and oceanic islands and archipelagos. Conforming to the Law of the Sea, coastal archipelagos, islands, rocks, and low-tide elevations may be used by the coastal state to draw straight baselines and set the maritime spaces over which its sovereignty or jurisdiction extends (articles 4 and 11 of the 1958 Geneva Convention on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone and articles 7 and 13 of the 1982 United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea). Regarding ocean islands and archipelagos, the Law of the Sea, prior to the revision made by the Third United Nations Conference, equated island coasts (isolated or forming an archipelago) to the coast of a continental state, thus enabling their maritime spaces to be drawn like that of the continental state. However, currently archipelagic states have seen the right to use the archipelagic principle recognized, and some islands have seen the possibility of enjoying the same maritime spaces as continental, archipelagic, or island states limited. Nevertheless, islands should be considered not only as territories that enjoy their own maritime spaces, but also as an important factor in maritime delimitations. Their presence often leads to different points of view between the parties involved when drafting the boundary, and this makes an equitable solution difficult. In addition, islands could be considered also as object of sovereignty disputes between states.

General Overviews on the Law of the Sea

Comprehensive works on islands and archipelagos are scarce, but it is possible to find some broad references to these subjects in general overviews on Law of the Sea. See Anand 1980; Attard, et al. 2014; Castillo 2015; Freestone, et al. 2006; Lodge and Nordquist 2014, O’Connell 1982; Rothwell and Stephens 2010; Rothwell, et al. 2015; Tanaka 2015; and (in French) Dupuy and Vignes 1985.

  • Anand, Ram Prakash, ed. Law of the Sea: Caracas and Beyond. The Hague: Nijhoff, 1980.

    Edited when the Third Conference was being held, it offers important references to the main changes and developments introduced in the Law of the Sea. The chapter written by Mani, pp. 82–110, offers a clear analysis of the evolution of the legal regime of islands.

  • Attard, David Joseph, Malgosia Fitzmaurice, and Norman A. Martínez Gutiérrez, eds. The IMLI Manual of International Maritime Law. Vol. 1, The Law of the Sea. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.

    Volume 1 of The IMLI Manual of International Maritime Law covers the Law of the Sea. There are two chapters dealing with islands and archipelagos, one by Erik Francks, “The Regime of Islands and Rocks” analyzing article 121 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the second by Arif Havas Oegroseno, “Archipelagic States: From Concept to Law” dealing with history, development, and the current regulation of the archipelagic state regime.

  • Castillo, Lilian del, ed. Law of the Sea, From Grotius to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea: Liber Amicorum Judge Hugo Caminos. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2015.

    Including a selection of current issues on the Law of the Sea, Part 6 of this book deals with islands and archipelagic states. Vincent P. Cogliati-Bantz analyzes the regime of archipelagic States, both the archipelagic baseline and archipelagic waters. Chapter 19 deals with islands and is required reading for those seeking a treatment of islands beyond the Law of the Sea. The the author’s analysis is based on the history of the islands themselves and their use by fiction writers.

  • Dupuy, René-Jean, and Daniel Vignes, eds. Traité du nouveau droit de la mer. Paris: Economica, 1985.

    This collective work offers a good analysis of the main aspects of the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea and makes particular reference to archipelagos, especially in the definition of archipelagic states, archipelagic lines, and the legal regime of archipelagic waters.

  • Freestone, David, Richard Barnes, and David Ong, eds. The Law of the Sea: Progress and Prospects. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199299614.001.0001

    Written by specialists who have spent a lifetime working with the Law of the Sea, this work has a particular value for those who wish to know about the evolution of the Law of the Sea after the 1982 United Nations Convention. We would highlight the reference to archipelagic sea lanes.

  • Lodge, Michael W., and Myron H. Nordquist. Peaceful Order in the World’s Oceans: Essays in Honour of Satya N. Nandam. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2014.

    Pages 68–90 of this book deal with islands. Article 121 of the United Nations Conference of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is analyzed as it pertains to islands, focusing, in particular, on the Law of the Sea Convention. This paper also analyses the practice of courts and states related to the application of article 121.

  • O’Connell, Daniel Patrick. The International Law of the Sea. Oxford: Clarendon, 1982.

    This excellent book, edited by Professor I. A. Shearer after the author’s death, is a consultation required for researchers and practitioners interested in the Law of the Sea and offers a good reference for islands and archipelagos.

  • Rothwell, Donald, Alex G. Oude Elferink, Karen N. Scott, and Tim Stephens, eds. The Oxford Handbook of the Law of the Sea. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.

    This collective work offers a comprehensive analysis of the Law of the Sea. Chapter 7 (pp. 134–158), by Tara Davenport deals with the development of the archipelagic regime and the final regulation in the United Nation Conventions of the Law of the Sea and also contains a reference to dependent archipelagos, which are not treated in the Law of the Sea Convention.

  • Rothwell, Donald, and Tim Stephens. The International Law of the Sea. Portland, OR: Hart, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511997341

    This book takes as its focus the rules and institutions established by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and places the achievements of the Convention in historical and contemporary context. The references to archipelagos are in chapter 8.

  • Tanaka, Yoshifumi. The International Law of the Sea. 2d ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2015.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511844478

    This book provides a general analysis of the Law of the Sea with references to islands (pp. 63–71) and archipelagos (pp. 111–119). First edition published 2012.

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