Innocent passage of warships

The right of innocent passage examined.

Innocent passage of the warships in the maritime territories of the Persian Gulf

By Bahman Aghai Diba, PhD International Law of the Sea

The recent incident in the Persian Gulf between the US and Iran navies has once again renewed the issue of innocent passage for the warships in the maritime territories at the time of peace (of course, the law of war is different). The non-military ships have normally the right of innocent passage in the territorial sea of other states. This is clearly stated in various sources of the international laws of the Sea, especially the 1982 UN Convention of the Law of the Sea dated 1982 known as Montego Bay Treaty. The US has not signed this treaty. Iran has signed but not ratified it. It should be noted that according to the law of the sea, the Islands (like the Farsi Island in the recent case) have their own maritime territories around them which is almost similar to the regulations about the mainland of the states.

Iran and the US have been active participants in the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea which culminated in 1982 Convention. Iran is under commitment not to act against its provisions (1). As far as the US is concerned, noting that many parts of the 1982 convention have either entered the national laws or the customary practices of states, the US tries not to do anything contrary to the convention. The US has issued a declaration that it believes the warships have the right of innocent passage but aside from Russia, this is not confirmed by large number of countries or international specialized organizations. In fact, in the Persian Gulf, some countries which previously had supported the idea of innocent passage of the warships or remained silent about it (including the Saudi Arabia) in the light of more recent security considerations have been inclined to asking the innocent passage of warships to be used after prior authorization of the coastal state. (2)

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