Convention on the Continental Shelf

Wikisource United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea Continental shelf

Convention on the Continental Shelf
UNCLOS logo.png
Signed29 April 1958
LocationGeneva, Switzerland
Effective10 June 1964
LanguagesChinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish
Convention on the Continental Shelf at Wikisource
  The global continental shelf, highlighted in cyan

The Convention on the Continental Shelf was an international treaty created to codify the rules of international law relating to continental shelves. The treaty, after entering into force 10 June 1964, established the rights of a sovereign state over the continental shelf surrounding it, if there be any. The treaty was one of three agreed upon at the first United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS I).[1] It has since been superseded by a new agreement reached in 1982 at UNCLOS III.

The treaty dealt with seven topics: the regime governing the superjacent waters and airspace; laying or maintenance of submarine cables or pipelines; the regime governing navigation, fishing, scientific research and the coastal state's competence in these areas; delimitation; tunneling.[2]

Historical background

The Convention on the Continental Shelf replaced the earlier practice of nations having sovereignty over only a very narrow strip of the sea surrounding them, with anything beyond that strip considered International Waters.[3] This policy was used until President of the United States Harry S Truman proclaimed that the resources on the continental shelf contiguous to the United States belonged to the United States through an Executive Order on 28 September 1945.[4] Many other nations quickly adapted similar policies, most stating that their portion of the sea extended either 12 or 200 nautical miles from its coast.

Rights of states

Article 1 of the convention defined the term shelf in terms of exploitability rather than relying upon the geological definition. It defined a shelf "to the seabed and subsoil of the submarine areas adjacent to the coast but outside the area of the territorial sea, to a depth of 200 meters or, beyond that limit, to where the depth of the superjacent waters admits of the exploitation of the natural resources of the said areas" or "to the seabed and subsoil of similar submarine areas adjacent to the coasts of islands".[5]

Besides outlining what is legal in continental shelf areas, it also dictated what could not be done in Article 5.[6]


Country Ratification Year Country Ratification Year
Albania 1964 Mauritius 1970
Australia 1963 Mexico 1966
Belarus 1961 Netherlands 1966
Bosnia and Herzegovina 1994 New Zealand 1965
Bulgaria 1962 Nigeria 1961
Cambodia 1960 Norway 1971
Canada 1970 Poland 1962
Colombia 1960 Portugal 1963
Costa Rica 1972 Romania 1961
Croatia 1992 Russian Federation 1960
Cyprus 1974 Senegal 1961
Czech Republic 1993 Sierra Leone 1966
Denmark 1963 Slovakia 1993
Dominican Republic 1964 Solomon Islands 1981
Fiji 1971 South Africa 1963
Finland 1965 Spain 1971
France 1965 Swaziland 1970
Greece 1972 Sweden 1966
Guatemala 1961 Switzerland 1966
Haiti 1960 Thailand 1968
Israel 1961 Tonga 1971
Jamaica 1965 Trinidad and Tobago 1968
Kenya 1969 Uganda 1964
Latvia 1992 Ukraine 1961
Lesotho 1973 United Kingdom 1964
Madagascar 1962 United States 1961
Malawi 1965 Venezuela 1961
Malaysia 1960 Yugoslavia 1966
Malta 1966



In 1960, the United Nations held another conference regarding the Laws of the Sea, UNCLOS II, but no agreements were reached. However, another conference was called in 1973 to address the issues. UNCLOS III, which lasted until 1982 due to a required consensus, adjusted and redefined many principles stated in the first UNCLOS. The new definition of the Continental shelf in the new Convention rendered the 1958 Convention on the Continental Shelf obsolete. The principal reason for this was technological advancements.[8]


  1. ^ Text of the UN treaty
  2. ^ Dupuy, RenĂ© Jean; Daniel Vignes (1991). A Handbook on the New Law of the Sea. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. p. 328. ISBN 978-0-7923-0924-6.
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ Shaw, Malcolm Nathan (2003). International Law. Cambridge University Press. pp. 523. ISBN 978-0-521-82473-6. Convention on the Continental Shelf.
  6. ^ Text of the treaty from WikiSource
  7. ^[permanent dead link]
  8. ^ "United Nations: UN Studies Ocean-Bed Treaty". Facts on File News Services. 27 November 1968. Retrieved 22 October 2008.[permanent dead link]