Centre registers protest after US ship enters Indian waters without permission
Thu, 22 Apr 2021

Centre registers protest after US ship enters Indian waters without permission

In News

India has registered protests regarding the passage of US warship ‘USS John Paul’ through India's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) without "prior permission".  The US warship conducted military maneuvers and freedom of navigation operations near Lakshadweep.



The passage of the US ship has come at a time when military cooperation between India and the US is on the rise. Their navies were involved in a joint exercise, along with navies of Japan, France and Australia in the eastern Indian Ocean region, in the La Pérouse exercise led by the French Navy. India and the US along with Australia and Japan make the Quadrilateral grouping where the commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific has been emphasized.


India’s Objection

  • Under Indian lawa — The Territorial Waters, Continental Shelf, Exclusive Economic Zone and Other Maritime Zones Act, 1976 — all foreign ships (other than warships including submarines and other underwater vehicles) shall enjoy the right of innocent passage through the territorial waters and a passage is innocent so long as it is not prejudicial to the peace, good order, or security of India.
  • The Indian Government’s stated position on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is that the Convention does not authorize other States to carry out in the Exclusive Economic Zone and on the continental shelf, military exercises or maneuvers, those involving the use of weapons or explosives, without the consent of the coastal state.


US Response

  • US forces operate regularly in the Indo-Pacific region and claim that the operations are conducted in accordance with international law.
  • The US has emphasized that the passage of its ship was part of its regular Freedom of Navigation Operations.
  • The US has also argued that India’s claim to EEZ is inconsistent with international law. The US officials also maintain a position that if India’s assertion is made the international standard, nearly 38 percent of the world’s oceans that were once considered high seas and open to unfettered military use will come under coastal state regulation and control.



The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is an international treaty which was adopted and signed in 1982.

Ratification: The convention has been ratified by 168 parties and the European Union. India has ratified the UN Law of the Seas in 1995 but USA has not ratified it.



Reasons for the impasse

  • Ambiguity of UNCLOS: The differing interpretations of India and the US on the rights and obligations in the EEZ flow from the ambiguous wording in Article 58 of the UNCLOS that deals with EEZ. Article 58 of the UNCLOS provides that in the EEZ, all states enjoy high seas freedoms of navigation and overflight and other internationally lawful uses of the seas. These “other internationally lawful uses of the seas” in Article 58 have led to a grey area which is interpreted by countries in different ways.
  • Differing interpretations: Countries like India, Bangladesh, Brazil, Myanmar, Indonesia, Iran, etc. regulate or prohibit foreign military activities in the EEZ by stating that the whole spirit behind the UNCLOS is that the high seas shall be reserved for peaceful purposes.
  • Technological advances and growing size of navy: The divergence in the perspective concerning the legality of foreign military activities in the EEZ between countries like India on the one hand and the USA on the other is expected to increase in the future due geopolitical factors, rise in the size of navies of many nations and technological advances to exploit the oceanic areas.


Associated Opinions

  • Experts point out that the aim of USA’s FONOP stands accurate with respect to artificial Islands created by China to gain access of international sea routes and seabed as EEZ. But India’s Lakshadweep case is far from similar.
  • USA’s public statement and India’s raising of concerns through “diplomatic channel” also questions India’s strategic autonomy over its marine space. It also leaves India in a vulnerable position with respect to future Chinese incursions.
  • Experts say that though the international law has not been violated, such an act is a sign of “disrespect” to the nation in which EEZ is located. USA must inform about any such fleet movement as a matter of courtesy and not publicize such navigation.





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