The following definitions are compliant with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Waters on the landward side of the baseline.


The State has sovereignty over this maritime space. Its sovereignty extends to the surface of the waters, to the underlying water column, its bed and subsoil and air space.

The territorial sea extends from the baselines to a maximum distance of 12 nautical miles, calculated from the baselines.

The State has full sovereignty over the bed and subsoil, surface and underlying water column and air space.

Sovereignty shall not, however, hinder the right of innocent passage of which the ships of all States benefit in the territorial sea.

The contiguous zone is adjacent to the territorial sea and extends to a maximum distance of 24 nautical miles calculated from the baselines.


In this zone, the State exercises all necessary controls to prevent or punish infringement of its customs, fiscal, immigration or sanitary laws and regulations within its terrestrial or maritime territory.

The exclusive economic zone is adjacent to the territorial sea and extends to a maximum distance of 200 nautical miles calculated from the baselines.

This is a space in which the coastal State do not practice its sovereignty but only the following rights:

  • sovereign rights over the water column, the bed and subsoil for the purposes of:
    • exploration, exploitation, conservation and management of natural resources, whether biological or not;
    • exploration and exploitation of the zone for economic purposes, such as the production of energy from water, currents and wind;


  • jurisdiction concerning the following fields:
    • construction and use of artificial islands, facilities and works;
    • marine scientific research;
    • protection and preservation of the marine environment.

Apart from the rights and obligations of the coastal States cited above, the exclusive economic zone is a space open to the exercise by any other State of the freedoms set down in the UNCLOS (navigation, overflight, etc.), within the limits set by the Convention.

The UNCLOS introduced a new definition of the continental shelf which can extend “to the outer edge of the continental margin, or to a distance of 200 nautical miles from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured where the outer edge of the continental margin does not extend up to that distance.” Coastal States can thus have a continental shelf of 200 nautical miles even in the absence of a geomorphological continental shelf, and a continental shelf extending beyond that limit where the presence of certain geomorphological and sedimentary criteria have been recognized by the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS).

The rights coastal State can exercise over the continental shelf are specified in Part VI of the UNCLOS. These rights are sovereign and exclusive over the seabed and subsoil, for exploration and exploitation of natural mineral, fossil and biological resources.

The French authorities also hold competence recognized by the UNCLOS for:

  • construction, operation and use of artificial islands and installations;
  • marine scientific research;
  • issuing consent the course of any pipeline;
  • issuing consent for the course of cables installed or used for exploitation of the continental shelf or of its resources.