Maritime laws of Mauritius

Brown gavel with golden middle on desk representing law

The maritime law or the admiralty law relates to all the legal practices concerning maritime activities. It is a set of rules and regulations that span from the legitimate licensing of ships to private marine exploration for a particular nation.

On the other hand, the law of the sea is the public twin of the maritime law that ensures safe nautical movement and proper environmental concern across the international waters of the world. Since the oceans of the world are a common commodity, each nation has to make sure that every nautical activity is carried out as safely as possible.

Legal status of Mauritian waters

Mauritian waters refer to the territorial sea, internal waters, archipelagic and historic waters, EEZ and water adjacent to the shelf of Mauritius.

Mauritius ratified the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) in 2005, an act which is cited as the Maritime Zones Act 2005[1].

The Republic of Mauritius includes the smaller islets of Rodrigues, Agalega and Saint Brandon (Cardagos Carajos Shoals). As such, archipelagic water refers to the water bodies surrounding these islets as well as the mainland of Mauritius, Chagos and Tromelin [2].

Mauritius has full power over the territorial sea, internal waters, historic and archipelagic waters; over the air space above these waters, in the seabeds, subsoils as well as the resources found in them.

Territorial sea

The territorial sea of Mauritius extends between the baseline (lowest watermark on the coast that is officially regarded as the state boundary) to a point of 12 nautical miles (1 nautical mile = 1.852 km) from the nearest point of the baseline.

The territorial sea of Mauritius may be used for innocent passage of ships (on a continued way to a specific site other than Mauritius).

In cases where the Prime Minister considers the passage of vessels unsafe or dangerous or does not conform to some other treaty in which the island is involved in, he may suspend the entry of ships in the territorial waters.

Continental shelf

Mauritius has full power over its continental shelf which extends beyond the territorial sea. It includes the seabed and subsoil along the natural shelf prolongation to the edge of the continental margin, or to a distance of 200 nautical miles from the baseline where the outer edge of the continental shelf does not reach that point.

Contiguous zone

The contiguous zone of Mauritius extends from the baseline to a distance of 24 nautical miles. The Prime Minister may amend regulations to ensure the safety of all surrounding waters as well as punish any infringement.

Exclusive economic zone (EEZ)

The EEZ is the region beyond and adjacent to the territorial waters up to a distance of 200 nautical miles from the baseline. In fact, the EEZ of Mauritius covers an area of 1.24 million nautical miles (216 000 nautical miles being shared with Seychelles) making it the 20th country in the world with the largest EEZ [3].

Mauritius has full rights

  • to exploit the EEZ for resource extraction, research, conservation and overall management,
  • to build artificial islands, offshore terminals or any other structure that is needed for the proper exploitation of resources or exploration of the waters,
  • to authorize, regulate, oversee scientific research,
  • to manage the marine environment and watch out for pollution.

As per regulations, unless authorised by the Prime Minister of Mauritius, no other person/party has the right to

  • exploit or explore,
  • excavate or drill,
  • carry out research of any kind,
  • construct offshore islands, terminals or any other structure

in the EEZ and continental shelf of Mauritius [4].

Mauritius has legal rights to oversee the activities directed at the underwater cultural heritage in its EEZ or continental shelf to prevent infringement of local legislation. However, it is the responsibility of every nation to protect and preserve the underwater cultural heritage.

Cables and pipelines can be laid on the continental shelf or seabed of the EEZ of Mauritius only with the permission of the Prime Minister.

Mauritians are allowed to fish in the EEZ as well as other body corporates registered in Mauritius and approved by the Ministry of Fisheries.

Foreign ships have access to free passage in the EEZ waters, as do aircraft over the waters of the EEZ.

Historic waters

Mauritius has full rights over its historic waters (marine waters obtained by claim of historic occupation) including the seabed, subsoil and airspace above them.

The Prime Minister

  • may modify or extend enactments and make provisions for facilitating the enforcement of the enactment.
  • publish the baseline, limits of the territorial waters, the continental shelf and EEZ in charts.

Any person that modifies the Maritime Zones Act or any regulations made under it commits an offence and is liable to a fine not exceeding Rs 30 million (body corporate Rs 150 million) or to imprisonment not exceeding 5 years.


References:

  1. Dowlutta, R. The Maritime Zones Act 2005. [pdf] Available at

https://www.ilo.org/dyn/natlex/docs/ELECTRONIC/82676/90732/F1018582086/MUS82676 [Accessed 10.03.2018]

  1. United States Department of State, (2014). Limits in the Seas, No.140, Mauritius: Achipelagic and other Maritime Claims and Boundaries. [pdf] Available at https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/229355.pdf [Accessed 10.03.2018]
  2. Intercontinental trust. MAURITIUS, PROMOTING THE DEVELOPMENT OF AN OCEAN ECONOMY. Intercontinental Trust Newsletter, [online] Volume 6 (11) p1. Available at http://www.intercontinentaltrust.com/admin/documents/all/ITL%20Newsletter%20Vol%206%20Issue%2011%20-%20Mauritius%20Exclusive%20Economic%20Zone.pdf [Accessed 11.03.2018]
  3. United Nations, Maritime Zones Act 1977. LAW OF THE SEA, National Legislation. [pdf]. Available at http://www.un.org/Depts/los/LEGISLATIONANDTREATIES/PDFFILES/MUS_1977_Act.pdf [Accessed 10.03.2018]
  4. United Nations. United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. [pdf] Available at http://www.un.org/depts/los/convention_agreements/texts/unclos/unclos_e.pdf [Accessed 08.03. 2018]

 

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