I thank Senators for their early consideration of this technical Bill that will establish in domestic law the framework of different maritime zones of national jurisdiction recognised under international law. Within those zones, a coastal state is entitled to regulate human activity only to the extent permitted by international law. States have different sets of rights in each zone, which I will explain shortly. It is important to emphasise at this point, however, that the purpose of the Bill is simply to establish those zones and provide for their limits. Separate legislation regulates activities within those zones. For example, the Sea-Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act regulates fishing and the Sea Pollution Act and Dumping at Sea Act regulate protection of the marine environment.
This Bill has been brought forward to consolidate, in one stand-alone Act, the State's maritime jurisdiction legislation and to update it to reflect recent developments in international law. As Senators will be aware, a significant reform of policy and law relating to both the protection of the maritime environment and regulation of marine planning and development is under way. Dáil Éireann recently approved the national marine planning framework and the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage will shortly bring forward the maritime area planning Bill. That Bill will introduce a new marine planning system and all marine planning applications will in future be required to meet the objectives set out in the planning framework. The enactment of accessible, stand-alone maritime jurisdiction legislation will make for greater clarity in the operation of the new planning system.
The regulation by states of human activity at sea is governed in the first instance by the international law of the sea. A state may only regulate an activity at sea to the extent permitted by international law. That, in turn, will depend on whether the activity is being carried out within a maritime zone of national jurisdiction and, if so, which one. These maritime zones include a state's internal waters, its territorial sea, the exclusive economic zone and the continental shelf, and a different legal regime applies within each zone. A coastal state has a different suite of rights and duties within each zone and what activities that state may regulate will depend on the zone in which it is carried out. In general, the international law of the sea seeks to strike a balance between the jurisdiction of the coastal state to regulate activity in its coastal waters and the jurisdiction of the flag state over the vessel from which that activity is being carried out.
The purposes of the Maritime Jurisdiction Bill, therefore, are to provide in domestic law for the establishment and delineation of each maritime zone and to clarify the State's rights in each one. This will facilitate the implementation of the new planning framework and the operation of the new streamlined marine planning system.
The Oireachtas first passed maritime jurisdiction legislation in 1959 and the State's current law in this area is set out mainly in Part 3 of the Sea-Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act 2006, with important provisions also contained in the Continental Shelf Act 1968. This development of our own law reflects the gradual development of international law over many decades.
Historically, customary international law developed to recognise that a coastal state exercised sovereignty within a marginal sea immediately adjacent to its land territory, known as its territorial sea. The territorial sea could extend to a breadth of three nautical miles. Beyond the territorial sea were the high seas. These were open to all states and no state was entitled to subject any part of them to its sovereignty. All states enjoyed the freedoms of the high seas. These rules remained remarkably stable for more than 200 years.
Following the Second World War, as the range and scale of human activity at sea greatly increased, pressure developed to allow coastal states to extend their jurisdiction further out to sea. This was resisted by other states that placed more value on preserving the freedoms of the high seas. These competing views were finally settled with the adoption in 1982 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea at Montego Bay in Jamaica. The 1982 convention is a comprehensive constitution for the oceans, establishing the legal framework for the regulation all activities in, on and under the sea. The convention fixed the maximum breadth of the territorial sea at 12 nautical miles and established a new maritime zone, the exclusive economic zone. This zone, which may extend to a maximum distance of 200 nautical miles, is a compromise between the two competing views.
As I mentioned, the Oireachtas first made legislative provision for its maritime jurisdiction in the Maritime Jurisdiction Act 1959. That Act established the outer limit of the territorial sea at three nautical miles and made provision for a straight baseline system from which part of that limit could be measured. The 1959 Act was amended in 1964 to give effect to the convention concluded at the London fisheries conference that year, at which the states concerned agreed to establish 12-mile exclusive fishery limits. The Continental Shelf Act 1968 conferred power on the Government to designate seabed beyond the territorial sea as Irish continental shelf in accordance with emerging international agreement on this issue. In 1976, following political agreement at the United Nations, EEC member states agreed to extend their exclusive fisheries limits to 200 nautical miles and an order under the 1959 Act to this effect was made by the Government.
The 1959 Act was amended again in 1988 to extend the breadth of the territorial sea to 12 nautical miles following the agreement reached on that matter in the 1982 convention. The 2006 Act then repealed and restated most provisions of the Acts of 1959, 1964 and 1988, and also established the 200-mile exclusive economic zone in Irish law, subsuming the exclusive fisheries zone.
This Bill is being brought forward now for a number of reasons. First, it will bring the State's maritime jurisdiction law up to date, reflecting in particular developments in international law and practice in recent years. The Bill sets out in detail the sovereign rights and jurisdiction the State may exercise on the continental shelf and within the exclusive economic zone, in accordance with international law.
As Senators will be aware, increased levels of activity and development are expected to take place in the economic zone in coming years, particularly in the production of offshore renewable energy.
Second, the Bill will consolidate the State's maritime jurisdiction legislation in one stand-alone enactment. As already stated, this is particularly important in the context of the new national marine planning framework and the forthcoming maritime area planning Bill.
Third, the Bill will ensure that the exercise of order-making powers will be guided by policies and principles linked to the detailed rules set out in the 1982 convention.
The Bill consists of 33 sections and two Schedules. Many of these re-enact, with amendments, the provisions of the 1968 and 2006 Acts. I wish to draw particular attention to the following provisions.
Section 6 deals with the baseline and replaces and builds upon section 85 of the 2006 Act. It establishes the low watermark along the coast as the normal baseline from which the breadth of the State's maritime zone is measured and clarifies, for completeness, that this includes the straight line across the mouth of a river where that river flows directly into the sea. It also provides a power enabling the Government to prescribe, by order, straight baselines and bay closing lines, in accordance with the relevant provisions of the 1982 convention, and preserves the existing straight baselines and bay closing line orders.
Section 7 defines the State's territorial sea. The 1959 Act and subsequent legislation used the term "territorial seas" but the singular "sea", as used in the 1982 convention and other instruments of international law, is now employed. A power to prescribe, by order, boundaries in the territorial sea is also introduced.
Section 9 is a new provision. It clarifies, for the avoidance of doubt, that the sovereignty of the State extends to the territorial sea and that the State owns the seabed of the territorial sea, as well as the mineral and other non-living natural resources located there and all forms of potential energy in, on, under or above the territorial sea.
Section 10 extends the State's criminal jurisdiction to cover offences committed on or by foreign vessels in the territorial sea.
Section 11 provides that a person who is not a citizen of the State may only be prosecuted for an offence committed on or from a foreign vessel within the territorial sea with the consent of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, with the exception of certain types of offences relating to fishing, pollution and maritime safety. This reflects the position in international law that the coastal state’s jurisdiction over foreign vessels, within its territorial sea, is concurrent with the jurisdiction of the flag state and should only be exercised in certain circumstances.
Section 12 defines the State's contiguous zone, which is the zone within which a coastal state may enforce its customs, immigration and fiscal rules, and where it has jurisdiction to protect archaeological property and sites. It lies outside the territorial sea and may extend to a maximum distance of 24 nautical miles from the baseline.
Section 13 defines the State's exclusive economic zone and provides a power enabling the Government to prescribe, by order, the boundaries of the zone in accordance with the 1982 convention. It also preserves the existing boundaries order.
Section 14 sets out the sovereign rights and jurisdiction enjoyed by the State within the exclusive economic zone. These include fisheries and protection of the marine environment. For the avoidance of doubt, the section also expressly lists the right to exploit renewable energy sources, and sequester carbon in the geological structures beneath the seabed.