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World Court Digest

II. Substantive International Law - Second Partv
1.2. Boundaries
1.2.2. Maritime Boundaries

¤ Case Concerning Maritime
Delimitation and Territorial
Question between Qatar and
Bahrain (Qatar v. Bahrain)
Judgment of 16 March 2001

[pp. 91-92] 169. It should be kept in mind that the concept of "single maritime boundary" may encompass a number of functions. In the present case the single maritime boundary will be the result of the delimitation of various jurisdictions. In the southern part of the delimitation area, which is situated where the coasts of the Parties are opposite to each other, the distance between these coasts is nowhere more than 24 nautical miles. The boundary the Court is expected to draw will, therefore, delimit exclusively their territorial seas and, consequently, an area over which they enjoy territorial sovereignty.
170. More to the north, however, where the coasts of the two States are no longer opposite to each other but are rather comparable to adjacent coasts, the delimitation to be carried out will be one between the continental shelf and exclusive economic zone belonging to each of the Parties, areas in which States have only sovereign rights and functional jurisdiction. Thus both Parties have differentiated between a southern and a northern sector.

[pp. 93-94] 173. The Court observes that the concept of a single maritime boundary does not stem from multilateral treaty law but from State practice, and that it finds its explanation in the wish of States to establish one uninterrupted boundary line delimiting the various - partially coincident - zones of maritime jurisdiction appertaining to them. In the case of coincident jurisdictional zones, the determination of a single boundary for the different objects of delimitation

"can only be carried out by the application of a criterion, or combination of criteria, which does not give preferential treatment to one of these ... objects to the detriment of the other, and at the same time is such as to be equally suitable to the division of either of them",

as was stated by the Chamber of the Court in the Gulf of Maine case (I.C.J. Reports 1984, p. 327, para. 194). In that case, the Chamber was asked to draw a single line which would delimit both the continental shelf and the superjacent water column.
174. Delimitation of territorial seas does not present comparable problems, since the rights of the coastal State in the area concerned are not functional but territorial, and entail sovereignty over the sea-bed and the superjacent waters and air column. Therefore, when carrying out that part of its task, the Court has to apply first and foremost the principles and rules of international customary law which refer to the delimitation of the territorial sea, while taking into account that its ultimate task is to draw a single maritime boundary that serves other purposes as well.
175. The Parties agree that the provisions of Article 15 of the 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea, headed "Delimitation of the territorial sea between States with opposite or adjacent coasts", are part of customary law. This Article provides:

"Where the coasts of two States are opposite or adjacent to each other, neither of the two States is entitled, failing agreement between them to the contrary, to extend its territorial sea beyond the median line every point of which is equidistant from the nearest point on the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial seas of each of the two States is measured. The above provision does not apply, however, where it is necessary by reason of historic title or other special circumstances to delimit the territorial seas of the two States in a way which is at variance therewith."

176. Article 15 of the 1982 Convention is virtually identical to Article 12, paragraph 1, of the 1958 Convention on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone, and is to be regarded as having a customary character. It is often referred to as the "equidistance/special circumstances" rule. The most logical and widely practised approach is first to draw provisionally an equidistance line and then to consider whether that line must be adjusted in the light of the existence of special circumstances. Once it has delimited the territorial seas belonging to the Parties, the Court will determine the rules and principles of customary law to be applied to the delimitation of the Parties' continental shelves and their exclusive economic zones or fishery zones. The Court will further decide whether the method to be chosen for this delimitation differs from or is similar to the approach just outlined.

177. The equidistance line is the line every point of which is equidistant from the nearest points on the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial seas of each of the two States is measured. It can only be drawn when the baselines are known. Neither of the Parties has as yet specified the baselines which are to be used for the determination of the breadth of the territorial sea, nor have they produced official maps or charts which reflect such baselines. Only during the present proceedings have they provided the Court with approximate basepoints which in their view could be used by the Court for the determination of the maritime boundary.