Archipelagic sea lanes (ASL) are international shipping routes recognized by the Law of the Sea Convention 1982 (UNCLOS 1982) as a track that crosses the archipelagic sea. Based on UNCLOS 1982 Article 53, archipelagic states can create two forms of routes, a shipping route, and/or a flight route. Especially for routes at sea, the archipelagic state can create one shipping route or can create separate traffic schemes for separate routes (TSS).
Archipelagic sea lanes are imaginary lines to cross the adjacent archipelagic sea and territorial sea and all normal cross routes used as routes for international navigation through archipelagic waters. Within such routes, ships may enter and exit from the designated route set through the sealane for innocent passage. Ships crossing through archipelagic sea lanes must not deviate more than 25 nautical miles from the axis line. The ships may not sail closer to shore less than 10% of the distance between points, the closest point to the islands bordering the sea channel.
The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has claimed the mandate of the UNCLOS 1982 as a competent agency for the appointment of ASL. There is no problem regarding shipping (ships) at sea, this route is a cross-line connecting one Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) to another or from one high sea to another.
There are some common misconceptions surrounding the idea of archipelagic seas, especially seeing as there is only one in the world right now, Indonesia, although other archipelagic states such as the Philippines have revealed strong interest. It is commonly thought that the archipelagic state has absolute sovereignty or power over the archipelagic sea, stemming from misinformation and uninformed assumptions.
Archipelagic states do not retain the right to prohibit foreign shops from crossing into their seas, nor do they have the right to take charge of any foreign vessels that may be crossing the archipelagic sea. The International Law of the Sea and the classification of sovereignty zones at sea have ensured that safety of passage for any foreign boats or ships passing through the sealanes.
Common misconceptions surrounding archipelagic seas
The archipelagic state has the right to prohibit ships from crossing its archipelagic sea.
International Law of the Sea has recognized and guaranteed the right of archipelagic sea lanes crossing for foreign vessels in the archipelagic sea.
The archipelagic state’s position on the inside of the territorial sea means absolute sovereignty over the archipelagic sea and can take charge of sailing foreign vessels.
The classification of sovereignty zones at sea (inland water, archipelagic sea, and territorial sea) distinguishes the sovereignty of the archipelagic state from the coastal state, where the coastal state sovereignty zone consists only of inland water and territorial sea.
The Case for Archipelagic Sealanes in the Maldives
There are several advantages for an island nation such as the Maldives of utilizing archipelagic sealane routes, the most important of which might be the safety and security it provides for the passage of ships, and for the nation.
Archipelagic sealanes promise safe and innocent passage for ships, and this greatly reduces the chances of grounding and the subsequent chances for pollution. As a nation that is greatly dependent upon tourism as our main source of foreign income and the greatest contributor to our national economy, an oil spill or other similar incident would have disastrous, spiraling effects on our economy and GDP. Oil spill equipment availability and distribution in the Maldives right now may not be sufficient, as it is kept close to the capital. A potential spill in the northern or southern ends of the nation could be disastrous in more ways than one.
Even as recently as this year, a vessel, the Navios Amaryllis, was grounded close to Kaashidhoo, leading to massive damage to the reef of the island, and resulting in a hefty 10 million dollar fine for the shipping company, Navios Maritime Partners. The vessel was traveling from India to South Africa in ballast when it blacked out on August 18. The next day the vessel drifted onto the reef and it required bringing in tugs from Sri Lanka to refloat. Unfortunate, and expensive, incidents like this could have been avoided had the Maldives opted to utilize archipelagic sealanes. Preventing a scenario such as this is extremely important to an island nation such as the Maldives, and shipping companies worldwide, and is the reason why other archipelagos are also considering archipelagic sealanes.
Added in with the increased safety is increased security for the nation from utilizing archipelagic sealanes to allow innocent passage for ships. Archipelagic sealanes give nations the ability to easily monitor passing foreign ships and distinguish between fishing traffic and cargo ships, as foreign vessels are required to pass through the designated sealane only. It increases the security for the nation as a whole. The ability to monitor all vessels that go through the sealane, and the ability to easily distinguish between vessels that are abusing passage though the waters of the archipelago and vessels making innocent passage through the zone.