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

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Maritime Boundaries in the Context of Maritime Delimitation
  • The Law of Maritime Delimitation

International Law Maritime Delimitation
Jorge Antonio Quindimil López
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 January 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199796953-0119


Maritime delimitation is one of the most discussed issues in international law, distinguished by unusual technical complexity and political relevance. A combination of legal, political, technical, historical, environmental, and economic elements has turned this topic into one of the most studied not only by jurists, but hydrographers, geographers, cartographers, and other experts. At the same time, in a world where the approximately 60 percent of maritime boundaries are still to be defined, maritime delimitation and its law are undergoing a process of progressive definition in several ways, mainly through the activity of international courts and tribunals. In fact since 1940, more than twenty disputes concerning international maritime boundaries have been submitted to international judiciary bodies, and in the particular case of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) maritime delimitation constitutes the principal object of the demands registered. Traditionally, states have been concerned about land boundaries; their interest in maritime boundaries came relatively late when, at the beginning of the 20th century, they discovered the economic potential of the sea in terms of living marine resources and, in particular, hydrocarbons. After that coastal states tended to increasingly exert their sovereignty over seas and oceans, starting an irreversible trend of creating more and larger maritime zones under their sovereign rights or functional competence to administer the territory. In this context, the traditional political nature of maritime boundaries is being supplemented by economic and even by environmental considerations as part of the evolution of the phenomenon of multiplication of maritime boundaries. From a legal point of view, an international maritime boundary is established by agreement between the parties. In the absence of such an agreement, the parties formerly submitted the dispute to international adjudication, mainly to the ICJ, but also to arbitral tribunals or even to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS). Due to this fact and to the indeterminate nature of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) provisions on maritime delimitation, international jurisprudence acquires an enormous value, which is highlighted by the unanimous consent doctrine.

General Overviews

As explained in the Introduction, maritime delimitation is one of the most complex fields of international law, so the general doctrine referred to under this topic will be marked by elements of complexity from its historical evolution to the results of the maritime delimitation process. The most ambitious work on the topic is Charney, et al. 1993–2011, which has become the main reference work on the subject. A global view of other bibliographic references that reveals the multidimensional and multidisciplinary nature of the doctrine of maritime delimitation is contained in McDorman, et al. 1983 For a historical perspective, the work of Rhee 1982 is an excellent reference, in combination with that of Johnston 1988, which also presents a deep conceptual and technical analysis in a theoretical way somehow similar to the rationalistic work of Marques Antunes 2003. Maritime delimitation is, overall, a complex process integrated by legal and technical elements, where jurists don’t have an exclusive role, as Kapoor and Kerr 1986 shows. However, maritime delimitation has a specific juridical relevance, as long as that complex process combines legal and technical features both in the formation of international norms and their codification and in the activity of international adjudication in the determination of maritime boundaries, as described in Lucchini and Voelckel 1996 and Lagoni and Vignes 2006.

  • Charney, Jonathan I., et al. International Maritime Boundaries. 6 vols. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff, 1993–2011.

    This is probably the most complete multivolume work on maritime delimitation, an ambitious collection that contains essays on core issues dealing with maritime delimitation (Volumes 1, 5, and 6) and overall, within its six volumes and more than 4600 pages, includes separate systematic studies of every maritime boundary agreement.

  • Johnston, D. M. The Theory and History of Ocean Boundary-Making. Montreal: McGill Queen’s University Press, 1988.

    One of the leading general systematic works of maritime delimitation, examining concepts, factors, processes, results, and techniques, as well as the historical evolution of the field. In its conclusion the author elaborates his own functionalist and interdisciplinary theory on the issue.

  • Kapoor, D. C., and Adam J. Kerr. A Guide to Maritime Boundary Delimitation. Toronto: Carswell, 1986.

    This work differs from others referenced in this article in that its authors and principal audience are hydrographers, so it offers special technical insights—hydrographic, cartographic, and geographic—very relevant in a field mainly developed by jurists, but which inevitably combines science and law.

  • Lagoni, Rainer, and Daniel Vignes, eds. Maritime Delimitation. Publications on Ocean Development 53. Leiden, The Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff, 2006.

    This edited volume is authored by twelve experts in the law of the sea, from judges of the ITLOS to scholars and attorneys, tackling, from general and particular perspectives, some of the core judicial, conventional, and practical issues of maritime delimitation.

  • Lucchini, Laurent, and Michel Voelckel. Délimitation, navigation et peche. Vol. 1, Délimitation. Droit de la mer 2. Paris: Pedone, 1996.

    Through a very pedagogical structure, the authors construct the book in four large chapters dedicated to the main features of maritime delimitation, the general conventional norms, the delimitation agreements, and the judicial contribution to maritime delimitation.

  • Marques Antunes, Nuno. Towards the Conceptualisation of Maritime Delimitation: Legal and Technical Aspects of a Political Process. Publications on Ocean Development 42. Leiden, The Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff, 2003.

    Focusing on judicial and state practice, this Portuguese author starts from the analysis of maritime delimitation within the framework of codification of the law of the sea, and then examines in depth conceptual, methodological, technical, and legal issues, even proposing a formula of rationalization.

  • McDorman, T. L., K. P. Beauchamp, and D. M. Johnston. Maritime Boundary Delimitation: An Annotated Bibliography. Lexington, MA: Lexington, 1983.

    This book covers the most relevant literature on maritime delimitation before 1983, including descriptive annotations to each referenced work, as well as an appendix containing all bilateral agreements located by the authors.

  • Rhee, Sang-Myon. “Sea Boundary Delimitation between States Before World War II.” American Journal of International Law 76.3 (1982): 555–558.

    DOI: 10.2307/2200786

    This is one of the few works exclusively dedicated to maritime delimitation in a historical framework. Most of the essays use as a point of departure President Harry Truman’s proclamation and the state of play of the subject in the 1950s, but this Korean professor decided to study the development of principles of maritime delimitation after the Treaty of Westphalia and the inception of the continental shelf doctrine in 1945.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.