700.022/8–1150: Circular airgram

The Secretary of State to Certain Diplomatic Missions and Consular Offices 1


Delimitation of Inland Waters and the Marginal Sea

[Here follows instruction, repeating verbatim the text transmitted in Department’s circular airgram of March 7, ante, page 875. The Department stated further that it was transmitting a concise summary of claims made by a number of countries regarding the delimitation and measurement of inland waters and the marginal sea affecting them, based on Departmental research and replies received from many littoral states to which queries were sent earlier in the year.]

Research Statement on Marginal Sea Claims of Certain Countries

European Countries

France: 3-mile claim

France claims to exercise jurisdiction over the above [that is, inland waters and the marginal sea] within a limit of three nautical miles. This limit also applies to the waters of French overseas territories. However, some local administrations of certain overseas territories have established exceptions. For example, a decree of September 22, 1936 extended French jurisdiction over fishermen off the Indochina coast to 20 kilometers.

Greece: 6-mile claim

The extent of the zone of territorial waters is fixed at six nautical miles from the coast without prejudice to any provisions in force which deal with special cases and in which the zone of territorial [Page 880] waters is fixed at a greater or lesser extension than six nautical miles. (Law No. 230 of Sept. 17, 1936.)

U.S.S.R.: 12-mile claim

“In general, it would appear that the Soviets insist upon the 12-mile limit for their own territorial waters, while claiming the right for their vessels to approach within 3 miles of the shore of other countries.” (Moscow emb. airgram 2785, Aug. 1, 1949.)

“… a maritime zone 12 miles wide, measuring from the line of the lowest tide, both on the continent and on islands, except in cases provided for by international agreements of the Union of S.S.R.” (“Collection of Laws and Decrees of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics,” No. 62, Nov. 19, 1927; Art. 625, II–c.)

[Here follows a summary listing of claims by four South American countries. For a concise citation of claims advanced by all the Latin American countries, see Department’s circular airgram, September 15, infra.]

Asian Countries

Ceylon: 3-mile claim

There is no enactment establishing a general limit of territorial waters. There are, however, enactments and cases covering specific situations and in general upholding the three mile limit, with exceptions made for pearl and chank fisheries.

India: 3-mile claim

No enactment is known defining the territorial waters of India for general purposes. However, in its reply to the questionnaire of the League of Nations of December 15, 1928 (League of Nations, Preparatory Committee for the Conference for the Codification of International Law, Bases of Discussion, Vol. 2, Territorial Waters C.74M.39.1929.V, p. 166) the Government of India associated itself with the reply of the British Government which had advocated a three mile limit for all purposes, reserving the rights of pearl and chank fisheries outside territorial limits, (ibid. p. 162.)

There are a number of Indian cases which define territorial waters as extending three miles from low water-mark.

Iran: 6-mile claim, with contiguous zone

The territorial waters of Persia extend for a distance of six nautical miles from the extreme point of the shore bared at low-water. Besides, a zone of maritime control extending to a distance of 12 miles shall be placed under the supervision of the government.

Every island belonging to Persia is surrounded by territorial waters as defined above. Where an archipelago is concerned the territorial waters begin at the outermost island of the group.… (Law of July 15, 1934 Tir 24, 1313.)

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(A French translation of this law is contained in Italy, Ministero della Marina, Norme e disposizioni sul mare territoriale, Rome, 1939, p. 265.)

Israel: 3-mile claim

“Territorial waters” means any part of the open sea within three nautical miles of the coast of Palestine, measured from low water mark.… (Palestine interpretation Ordinance, No. 9 of March 29, 1945.)

No enactments of Israel could be found establishing differing limits for specific purposes or national defense.

Japan: 3-mile claim

Japan since the early part of the Meiji Era has observed the 3-mile rule with respect to national claims to territorial waters. Insofar as is ascertainable, however, it has never expressed its acceptance of the 3-mile limit in domestic legislation, but rather has regarded and observed the 3-mile limit as a rule of general international law.

Since August 1945 Japan, as an occupied nation, has been unable to take any position internationally on the question of territorial waters. Insofar as domestic administration is concerned however, Japanese jurisdiction extends to surrounding waters (undefined as to extent), as authorized by SCAP, with respect to maritime police, customs, coastal navigation and fishing, etc.


There are no provisions establishing a general limit of territorial waters. However, a number of legislative provisions establish limits of territorial waters for specific purposes, as follows:

Fisheries: 6 miles. (Decree, High Com’r of Fr. Republic in Syria & Lebanon, 1104, Nov. 14, 1921)
Criminal jurisdiction: 20 kilometers. (Lebanon Penal Code, decree-law No. 340/NI, Mar. 1, 1943)
National defense: 6 miles. (Decree No. 1 of Col. Gen’l, Lebanese Army, May 16, 1948)

Philippines, Republic of the: 3-mile claim

According to the Philippine Coast and Geodetic Survey, the 3-mile marginal sea limit has been recognized in numerous court decisions in the Philippines, particularly in cases involving smuggling of opium in the waters adjacent to Borneo.

Saudi Arabia: 6 miles and contiguous zone

Royal decree No. 6/5/43711 prescribes that:

Inland waters includes bays, waters landward of any shoal or island not more than 12 nautical miles from the mainland, and between islands not more than 12 miles apart (Art. 4);
Coastal (marginal) sea outside inland waters seaward for a distance of 6 nautical miles (Art. 5):
With a view to assuring compliance with the laws of the Kingdom relating to security, navigation, and fiscal matters, maritime surveillance [Page 882] may be exercised in a contiguous zone outside the coastal sea, extending for a further distance of six nautical miles and measured from the base-lines of the coastal sea, provided however that nothing in this Article shall be deemed to apply to the rights of the Kingdom with respect to fishing (Art. 9).

An English translation of the decree was published in American Journal of International Law, Vol. 43 (July 1949), Supplement, pp. 154 to 156.


There are no provisions establishing a general limit of territorial waters. However, a number of legislative provisions establish limits of territorial waters for specific purposes.

Fisheries: 6 miles.
Criminal jurisdiction: 20 kilometers.


Neither the Constitution nor the available sections of the Civil and Criminal Codes define the limits of Thailand’s territorial waters. Furthermore, two recent cases of ship seizure indicate that the Thai Government adheres to no de facto limit for territorial waters.

The Norwegian vessel Brattoy was intercepted on the “high seas”, 65 miles off the Thai coast by a Royal Thai Navy vessel on suspicion of smuggling rice. The ship’s captain described the seizure as unwarranted and in violation of international maritime law, Naval officials of the Thai vessel claimed that they had the right to seize the ship beyond the international three mile limit because they had the right to apprehend vessels suspected of carrying contraband goods: (Bangkok Post, Oct. 18, 1948). Norwegian authorities submitted that the Brattoy should not have been seized outside the “three mile national limit”. (Bangkok Post, Nov. 9, 1948.)
Six members of a Malaya fishing party were arrested last week in Thai waters off Narathivas Province after a chase following refusal to halt for examination. (Bangkok Post, Nov. 21, 1949.) A buoy has been established ten miles offshore at the latitude of the border, but whether Thailand claims sovereignty to that point is not clear (D–257, Bangkok, Apr. 5, 1950).


There does not appear to be any enactment establishing a general limit of territorial waters. However, there is evidence to indicate that Turkey favors a limit of six miles.

At The Hague Conference on Territorial Waters, 1930, Turkey declared herself in favor of a limit of six nautical miles with an adjacent zone.

The Ottoman Empire claim relating to a 6–mile limit of the territorial sea has apparently set the pattern for the present claims of the succession states.

  1. Sent to Ankara, Baghdad, Belgrade, Brussels, Colombo, Dublin, Karachi, Lima, Managua, Monrovia, New Delhi, Tegucigalpa, Tehran, Warsaw, Beirut, and Saigon.