Maritime Exclusion Zone

Last updated

A Maritime Exclusion Zone (MEZ) is a military exclusion zone at sea. While it is an accepted concept internationally, it is not the subject of an explicit treaty, and there has been variation in naming including: "naval exclusion zone", "maritime security zone", "blockade zone", "maritime operational zone", "area subject to long distance blockade" and "area dangerous to shipping". [1]


During armed conflicts since the Russo-Japanese War in 1904, belligerents have sometimes established maritime zones to control or prohibit access of foreign ships and aircraft, with varying levels of restriction and risk of attack on merchant vessels. [2] A MEZ is different to a blockade in that enforcing naval forces are not deployed close in to a port but over an extended area, and that offending vessels are generally subject to attack rather than confiscation. The development of the MEZ concept from a blockade reflects the technological changes enabling longer ranges for detection systems and weapons. [1]

The modern concept

A more modern and consistent approach has been adopted since the San Remo Manual on International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea was published in 1994, which defined blockade zones in articles 105 to 108. [2] [3] MEZs warn vessels and aircraft to avoid the area, to reduce the risk that neutral or non-combatant vessels will be mistakenly targeted. However merchant ships, neutral or enemy, do not automatically become a lawful target by being in a MEZ; they must be evaluated as legitimate military objectives before being targeted. [4]

Many military Law of Sea manuals, including those of the Australian, Canadian, German and United Kingdom navies, set out regulations for the operation of MEZs, based on the internationally legally recognized San Remo Manual. The Australian manual notes that "there is no specific international law treaty provision referring to [Maritime Exclusion Zones], however, their use has acquired a degree of validity under customary international law". [2]

Neutral vessels must be given safe passage through a MEZ if it significantly impedes safe access to neutral ports, although they may be searched in transit by a belligerent. Sometimes a "blue safe maritime corridor" through a MEZ is defined and published to regulate such safe access. [4] [5]

MEZs have been routinely employed, for example by the United Kingdom and Argentina during the Falklands War, by Iran and Iraq during the Tanker War, by the United States during the Gulf War and Iraq War, and by Russia in the Russian invasion of Ukraine. [5]

MEZs are not required in the immediate area of naval operations for a belligerent to control an area "within which hostilities are taking place or belligerent forces are actually operating", where the activities and communications of neutral vessels and aircraft may be prohibited. [5]

See also

Related Research Articles

ARA <i>General Belgrano</i> Argentine cruiser, sunk 1982, Falklands War

ARAGeneral Belgrano (C-4) was an Argentine Navy light cruiser in service from 1951 until 1982. Originally commissioned by the U.S. Navy as USS Phoenix, she saw action in the Pacific theatre of World War II before being sold to Argentina. The vessel was the second to have been named after the Argentine founding father Manuel Belgrano (1770–1820). The first vessel was a 7,069-ton armoured cruiser completed in 1896.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Law of war</span> International regulations of warfare

The law of war is the component of international law that regulates the conditions for initiating war and the conduct of warring parties. Laws of war define sovereignty and nationhood, states and territories, occupation, and other critical terms of law.

Contraband refers to any item that, relating to its nature, is illegal to be possessed or sold. It is used for goods that by their nature are considered too dangerous or offensive in the eyes of the legislator—termed contraband in se—and forbidden.

A neutral country is a state that is neutral towards belligerents in a specific war or holds itself as permanently neutral in all future conflicts. As a type of non-combatant status, nationals of neutral countries enjoy protection under the law of war from belligerent actions to a greater extent than other non-combatants such as enemy civilians and prisoners of war. Different countries interpret their neutrality differently: some, such as Costa Rica, have demilitarized, while Switzerland holds to "armed neutrality", to deter aggression with a sizeable military, while barring itself from foreign deployment.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Blockade</span> Prevention of trade or movement by force

A blockade is the act of actively preventing a country or region from receiving or sending out food, supplies, weapons, or communications, and sometimes people, by military force. A blockade differs from an embargo or sanction, which are legal barriers to trade rather than physical barriers. It is also distinct from a siege in that a blockade is usually directed at an entire country or region, rather than a fortress or city and the objective may not always be to conquer the area.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Paris Declaration Respecting Maritime Law</span> 1856 international treaty with legal novelty that nations could accede afterwards

The Paris Declaration respecting Maritime Law of 16 April 1856 was an international multilateral treaty agreed to by the warring parties in the Crimean War gathered at the Congress at Paris after the peace treaty of Paris had been signed in March 1856. As an important juridical novelty in international law the treaty for the first time created the possibility for nations that were not involved in the establishment of the agreement and did not sign, to become a party by acceding the declaration afterwards. So did altogether 55 nations, which otherwise would have been possible in such a short period. This represented a large step in the globalisation of international law.

The London Declaration concerning the Laws of Naval War was a proposed international code of maritime law, especially as it relates to wartime activities, in 1909 at the London Naval Conference by the leading European naval powers, the United States and Japan, after a multinational conference that occurred in 1908 in London. The declaration largely reiterated existing law, but dealt with many controversial points, including blockades, contraband and prize, and showed greater regard to the rights of neutral entities.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Command of the sea</span> Complete control of naval warfare

Command of the sea is a naval military concept regarding the strength of a particular navy to a specific naval area it controls. A navy has command of the sea when it is so strong that its rivals cannot attack it directly. This dominance may apply to its surrounding waters or may extend far into the oceans, meaning the country has a blue-water navy. It is the naval equivalent of air supremacy.

The Tanker War was a protracted series of armed skirmishes between Iran and Iraq against merchant vessels in the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz from 1984 to 1988. The conflict was a part of the larger Iran–Iraq War.

Visit and Search is the right of a belligerent warship, under certain conditions, to board a neutral merchant ship in order to verify its true character. The term probably refers to a misunderstanding of the French word visite, which in this context simply means search.

Freedom of navigation (FON) is a principle of law of the sea that ships flying the flag of any sovereign state shall not suffer interference from other states, apart from the exceptions provided for in international law. In the realm of international law, it has been defined as “freedom of movement for vessels, freedom to enter ports and to make use of plant and docks, to load and unload goods and to transport goods and passengers". This right is now also codified as Article 87(1)a of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Prize (law)</span> Vessel, cargo, or equipment captured during armed conflict on the seas

In admiralty law prizes are equipment, vehicles, vessels, and cargo captured during armed conflict. The most common use of prize in this sense is the capture of an enemy ship and her cargo as a prize of war. In the past, the capturing force would commonly be allotted a share of the worth of the captured prize. Nations often granted letters of marque that would entitle private parties to capture enemy property, usually ships. Once the ship was secured on friendly territory, she would be made the subject of a prize case: an in rem proceeding in which the court determined the status of the condemned property and the manner in which the property was to be disposed of.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Total Exclusion Zone</span> Surrounding the Falkland Islands during the 1982 conflict

The Total Exclusion Zone (TEZ) was an area declared by the United Kingdom on 30 April 1982 covering a circle of radius 200 nautical miles from the centre of the Falkland Islands. During the Falklands War any sea vessel or aircraft from any country entering the zone was liable to be fired upon without further warning.

The Confederate privateers were privately owned ships that were authorized by the government of the Confederate States of America to attack the shipping of the United States. Although the appeal was to profit by capturing merchant vessels and seizing their cargoes, the government was most interested in diverting the efforts of the Union Navy away from the blockade of Southern ports, and perhaps to encourage European intervention in the conflict.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">First League of Armed Neutrality</span> European Naval Alliance (1780-1783)

The First League of Armed Neutrality was an alliance of European naval powers between 1780 and 1783 which was intended to protect neutral shipping against the British Royal Navy's wartime policy of unlimited search of neutral shipping for French contraband during the American Revolutionary War and Anglo-French War. According to one estimate, 1 in 5 merchant vessels were searched by the Royal Navy under this policy. By September 1778, at least 59 ships had been taken prize – 8 Danish, 16 Swedish and 35 Dutch, not mentioning others from Prussia. Protests were enormous by every side involved.

Many legal assessments of the Gaza flotilla raid were published subsequent to the event. International law experts differed over the legality of the action by Israel. The force necessary to respond to violent resistance and whether the force that was used was proportionate were disputed.

The San Remo Manual on International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea was adopted in June 1994 by the International Institute of Humanitarian Law after a series of round table discussions held between 1988 and 1994 by diplomats and naval and legal experts. It is "the only comprehensive international instrument that has been drafted on the law of naval warfare since 1913."

Cruiser rules is a colloquial phrase referring to the conventions regarding the attacking of a merchant ship by an armed vessel. Here cruiser is meant in its original meaning of a ship sent on an independent mission such as commerce raiding. A cruiser in modern naval terminology refers to a type of ship rather than its mission. Cruiser rules govern when it is permissible to open fire on an unarmed ship and the treatment of the crews of captured vessels. During both world wars, the question was raised of whether or not submarines were subject to cruiser rules. Initially, submarines attempted to obey them, but abandoned them as the war progressed.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Maritime Militia (China)</span> Military unit

The Maritime Militia, also called the Fishing Militia, is one of the three forces, next to the China Coast Guard (CCG) and the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), used in maritime operations by the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

The Stockton Center for International Law is an American research center at the Center for Naval Warfare Studies at the Naval War College. The center is focused on original research and analysis in international law and military operations. Predominantly, the Stockton Center has been involved in the review of various military manuals under international law, including the Tallinn Manual 2.0, the San Remo Manual and the Woomera Manual. Additionally, the center is responsible for the International Law Studies Journal, the editor-in-chief of which is the current Charles H. Stockton Professor of International Law, Professor James Kraska. The center routinely organizes workshops and seminars on contemporary issues in international law.


  1. 1 2 Michaelsen, Christopher (October 2003). "Maritime Exclusion Zones in Times of Armed Conflict at Sea: Legal Controversies Still Unresolved". Journal of Conflict and Security Law. 8 (2): 363–390. doi:10.1093/jcsl/8.2.363 . Retrieved 3 August 2022.
  2. 1 2 3 Sivakumaran, Sandesh (2016). "Exclusion Zones in the Law of Armed Conflict at Sea: Evolution in Law and Practice". Stockton Center for the Study of International Law. U.S. Naval War College. pp. 154–155, 192, 200–201. ISSN   2375-2831 . Retrieved 3 August 2022.
  3. "San Remo Manual on International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea". International Committee of the Red Cross. 12 June 1994. Retrieved 22 October 2022.
  4. 1 2 Pedrozo, Raul (12 April 2022). "Ukraine Symposium – Maritime Exclusion Zones in Armed Conflicts". West Point. United States Military Academy . Retrieved 22 May 2022.
  5. 1 2 3 Pedrozo, Raul (2022). "Maritime Exclusion Zones in Armed Conflicts". International Law Studies. Stockton Center for International Law. 99: 526–536. ISSN   2375-2831 . Retrieved 13 August 2023.